By Barry Moline
The first time I volunteered to take on a big responsibility was so memorable, so impactful in the moment, that it has served as inspiration for my entire life. Now, don’t laugh… It happened in a hockey game…
I was 16 years old in my rookie year as a hockey official. I had been a hockey player since age 10 and loved to skate. Truth be told, I was a way better skater than a hockey player. As an official, I became an expert in the rules, could outskate almost everyone and found that I liked to be in charge.
I was assigned a big game toward the end of my rookie season. It was at the college level and was, as they say, above my pay grade. In hockey, there are two levels of on-ice officials: the referee, the one in charge, and the linesman who calls offsides and breaks up fights. I was assigned as a linesman, so I was the lesser official for this game and felt comfortable it was in my wheelhouse.
This was a big game, and arriving at the rink there was a buzz in the air. I entered the locker room to find – two other officials assigned to the game who were both linesmen. Uh oh. I asked, “Are either of you the referee?” They nervously replied, “No way!” We all got dressed, hoping the actual referee – the one in charge – would show up.
About 15 minutes before the game, the official scorekeeper came in and asked, “Who’s the referee tonight?” I looked at my fellow officials, and their faces were full of fear. I said, “I am.” He said, “This is an important game. Both teams are fighting for the #1 spot. Call it close.” I said, “Thanks, got it.”
I reached into my bag and pulled on the referee’s armbands. On the ice, I don’t know what came over me. I took command, barking orders and calls like a drill sergeant. No one questioned a single call. The game was close all night, and there was only one penalty – very unusual for a hockey game!
After that game, word got out about what I had done, stepping up and taking on that big responsibility. The following year I was assigned similar high-level games. Two years later, I was invited to NHL officials training camp. I refereed in the minor leagues for a few years and worked a few NHL games before deciding to head to college instead.
When I raised my hand to take initiative, I did the first and most important thing a leader does. Take responsibility. Now as a CEO for 27 years, I’ve learned that people come into leadership from many channels. There is no single strategy, except one: Leadership is a choice. Leaders choose to lead, and the action they take is choosing to lead, taking initiative, raising their hand, and taking responsibility.
You don’t have to be the CEO to be a leader. In fact, you can be a leader right where you are. Be the one who volunteers for a job that others don’t want. Responsibility is a habit – get reps. Others around you notice when you step up and get things done. You become dependable, and when a more important job needs to get done, you will be ready to take it on. I’ve seen it happen over and over. The more you step up, the more people notice, and the more you are called on to lead.
There’s no question that there are other elements of leadership. I focus on 5: Responsibility, Grit, Trust, Mindset, and Positivity. I think of leadership not as a philosophy, but as a series of actions. When people see you leading, you’re a leader. You feel like a leader. You develop confidence. People trust you over time when you’re consistent. You start thinking like a leader, looking for ways to get things done. And leaders raise others up, because they know greatness comes when the team works together.
Step up and take responsibility. You’ll be taking the first step to becoming the leader you are meant to be.
Barry Moline is a positive leader committed to helping you achieve at your highest level. In his successful 28 years as a CEO, he has seen many people struggle to collaborate and lead. Recognizing the widespread need to improve teamwork and leadership, Barry investigated and discovered the keys that best-practice organizations use to quickly collaborate and encourage staff to grow productive workplace relationships. He is eager to bring this valuable wisdom to your audience.
After 4 years of research, Barry wrote the award-winning book Connect! where he shares the secrets to successful teamwork, communication, and leadership. He’s a columnist on Forbes.com and appears frequently in the media, including CBS, NPR, The New York Times, Fox Business News, Washington Post, Authority Magazine and many more.
Barry Moline is an On- Demand Presenter for IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2023 Online Conference. Check out his presentation here!
Browse IIL’s Leadership & Interpersonal Skills Courses here.
Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.