The Tao of Wayne Gretzky

One of my colleagues at work gently teases me about my ability to bust out a situation-appropriate platitude at just about any given time, for any purpose. Some of my favorite nonprofit work platitudes come from—yes—Wayne Gretzky, hockey great and coach of my beloved Phoenix Coyotes.

Gretzky’s most famous quotations rival the deep, metaphorical simplicity of another famous platitude-r, Peter Sellers’s character Chance in the film Being There. In the film, Chance, an isolated, seemingly simple-minded man, is the gardener for a wealthy DC resident. A series of events cause people to start interpreting his throw away observations as intrinsically brilliant metaphors for the modern world, to help them make difficult decisions, etc.

A great athlete, Gretzky’s musings on the nature of hockey play have this same kind of resonance. In the interest of new beginnings, I wanted to share these with you in hopes that they can guide you on your journey as well:

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Applicable to: any situation where hesitation will sound the death knell. I most often play this card in fundraising situations, or to encourage people to take risks. When you consider that inaction ensures failure, action doesn’t seem so bad. Also, it’s statistically true!

“I don’t like my hockey sticks touching other sticks, and I don’t like them crossing one another, and I kind of have them hidden in the corner. I put baby powder on the ends. I think it’s essentially a matter of taking care of what takes care of you.”
Applicable to: recognizing interconnectedness and interdependence. For me, this statement guides my human resource philosophy. I perceive supervision as an act of service, not a demonstration of power. One of my first rules of management is to put staff concerns ahead of all else. I want to take care of my people.

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player skates to where the puck is going to be.”
Applicable to: entrepreneurship, growth, change, development, risk-taking, planning, strategy. I use this quote to encourage people think not about the immediate return of their action, but how the action fits in with long-term expectations and goals. Sure, you can play at the puck and get a lot of game action. But you’ll also have to fight for every stab you take at it. When you can anticipate the movement of your game, that’s when you have the greatest opportunity to score.

“The only way a kid is going to practice is if it’s fun for him.”
Applicable to: Lightening up. Very few of us in arts nonprofits are saving lives or saving the world. But we are making the our world a better place to be when we ensure our work stays fun and enjoyable. There will always be stress and strain in the workplace, but as long as you can all step back and laugh together, it will never seem so bad.

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