Management 101 & The Canadiens

If you’ve been here before or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I spent last weekend in Montreal, and saw the Habs beat the Bruins… in person! It was glorious.

But this won’t be about the weekend, this one is just about the Habs, and where they are now, and why.

I was listening to TSN690 radio in Montreal today, as I do Sunday to Sunday, and on the Montreal Forum show, Tony Marinaro asked the question,

“Was P.Gauthier better GM 4 Habs than we thought? (Acquiring Eller, Bourque, Budaj, Markov & Gorges contracts).”

Look, he was talking about our last GM, Pierre Gauthier. We all know about the guy, and yes, we’re all glad he’s no longer. With us, I mean. I mean, he’s not dead, he’s just gone. From the organization. We wouldn’t be glad he was dead. Just like I’m not glad Margaret Thatcher’s dead, and not that I ever really thought about her ever, but I couldn’t stand her when she got into cahoots with Augusto Pinochet. But she can still rest in peace.

Anyway – Pierre Gauthier (not dead), as it turns out, did not the world’s worst job as the Habs GM, as referenced with his acquisitions in Tony’s tweet. And many, most of the elements of today’s club are carry-overs from the Gauthier regime. So that’s okay. So why, then, was essentially the same group of guys the worst in the east last year, 28th in the league overall, and after tonight, will lead the Northeast Division and be second-place in the east, a position they’ve earned and enjoyed for most of this season?

The short answer is we have a new GM, a new coach, and a new system.

My longer answer meanders a bit, as my posts tend to do.

I went to the Habs Hall of Fame at the Bell Centre last Saturday with the cutest & sweetest bf in the world and another pal. I’ll do a post later on that weekend, but as we were walking through the HHOF, I had tingles, and the history, and being in the same spot as Jacques Plante’s goalie mask, or Patrick Roy’s stick, even the spot dedicated to the original six – I can’t believe the Bruins’ paraphernalia didn’t disintegrate into ashes in that holy spot – and something occurred to me.

I was not surprised in the least as I was standing there and soaking up the experience and history that I would be so moved – I’ve been a fan(atic) and devotee forever. But what I also felt was gratitude. And I mentioned it to my buddy – “What a difference a year makes. All of a sudden, we have our culture back, our pride back. And Bergevin did it in less than a year. A year.”

We’re talking about Marc Bergevin, the rookie GM who came from the Blackhawks organization where he’d been Assistant GM, and where he was for the Hawks’ Stanley Cup in 2010 as Director of Player Personnel. What is it about this guy that was so different from the other guy?

Look, anybody can get a management certificate. You work hard and study hard, read all the books, and you get the nice little piece of paper for your resume and your wall.

The difference between Marc Bergevin and Pierre Gauthier, besides the obvious, which is that the former is hubba-hubba, is chiefly, and most importantly: leadership.

Anybody can be in charge. But it takes a particular quality to be a leader. Manager and leader are not the same thing.

Anybody can jot down all the philosophies, and tack them on the wall for the followers to fall in line with.

You know what leaders do? They believe in the philosophies. They understand that you don’t have a successful organization of moving parts by treating those parts as commodities, and calling them, “Mr.” They want to achieve success as a unit, and believe in the team concept, the family concept. And transparency. It’s not possible to believe in and trust someone who isn’t transparent with you.

A leader believes, and as a result, those around him believe, and believe in each other, and want to achieve success, not just for themselves, but for the organization, the team, each other, their brothers.

So it’s not that Gauthier sucked, it’s that it was purely business for him, just his job. The players were commodities, assets, not people, with egos, frustrations and insecurities. 

There’s obviously no doubt that Bergevin takes his job extremely seriously, but what has made him successful and be the GM of an organization that so quickly did an about-face, and went from the famous “loser mentality” to a “pas d’excuses”, bounce-back team, is his keen understanding of team mentality – that’s the building block for any success.

I don’t think you can teach that. You either have it, or you don’t. That’s why true leaders are far outnumbered by just managers.

So thanks, Geoff Molson, for picking Bergevin, and for having that same understanding of what’s required to build a culture and regain the tradition sorely missed by the fans, and sorely needed by the team. And Bergevin, for hand-picking Michel Therrien for his second go-round as our head coach. Because the result has been nothing short of astonishing.

I won’t doubt a single decision Bergevin makes. Not ONE. NOT. ONE.


Coaching in Montreal & Bilingualism

It’s been less than 24 hours since I heard of Jacques Martin’s firing. I’m on the west coast, and if the puppy doesn’t get an exhaustive outing first thing in the morning, there is hell to pay for the rest of the day. So I didn’t sit down with coffee and iPad in hand to read news and check Twitter until about 4 hours after the story broke.

I speak 3 languages, and as someone whose employment has always depended on having the 3 languages, I feel I can speak to this issue. I worked for the Canadian government in Chile – speaking Spanish, French and English was a requirement. I’ve subsequently worked for Canadian companies with interests in South America; my language skills made me the preferred candidate for each of those positions. I also recently obtained my certification as a Spanish/English translator; obviously, knowing those 2 languages is a requirement for that.

Being bilingual in Montreal is not a requirement; in fact, only French is the official language there. You must speak French if you want a job in the belle province. I get that, and have a deep appreciation for that. I love the city of Montreal, it’s my favorite city in Canada. And I LOVE the French language, and sympathize with and fully comprehend the people of Quebec who fiercely protect their heritage and language.

Speaking French, however, is not a requirement for a coach to be employed by the National Hockey League. It’s an implicit requirement for being the coach in Montreal. I consider it a “nice-to-have”. Nice to be able to communicate with the Francophone press and citizens. But that’s all.

The coach of a team SHOULD have the respect of his team, and should be able to communicate with the PLAYERS. Having the added prohibitive “requirement” of speaking French pares down the talent pool considerably, and has routinely adversely affected the talent search in that city.

Last I checked, Francophone media have no problem interviewing Montreal Canadiens players, of whom, I believe, only one can speak French. So why not speak English with the coach, too? And then use the bilingualism to translate resulting news pieces? It’s not hard!!

The issue in Montreal is purely political, it’s not about hockey. Hockey is about assembling the best available talent, players and coach alike, then going out and winning games. And winning the Cup. THAT’s what hockey is.

I believe Pierre Gauthier has been scrambling to save his own skin by throwing upset Canadiens fans proverbial bones with the firing of Perry Pearn, the Spacek trade, and now the firing of Jacques Martin. But you have to admire his “cojones” by naming an interim coach who is not fluent in French. The Francophone press is not happy, in fact, it’s all they seem to care about. Let’s give Randy Cunneyworth a chance – if he doesn’t do a worse job than Martin, it’s already a step in the right direction.

French Canadian ex-player and coach Guy Carbonneau said it best at his press conference after being fired by the Canadiens, when asked the “all-important” question about which French speaking coach might replace him, and said the fans shouldn’t care if the coach could only speak Chinese, as long as the team won the Cup.

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