Nicklas Lidström is a coward

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Nicklas Lidström is, in my opinion, the best hockey player ever. You say Gretzky, I doubt. Here we could spend hours debating, which I am happy to do over a beer or two. But if you have read this book so far perhaps you can see my point, as there is more to it than just the sport skills which make a great hockey player. And that is personal soft skills, not seen on the pitch, but more likely in the locker room. These skills are balls and candour which I think Nicklas is lacking. It is very common in the sports world that you obey your coach no matter what, for the sake of time on the pitch rather than on the bench. There is no name for this phenomenon, so I invented it and call it the Lidström Syndrome, which is an effect of the toxic culture, more known as Management by Fear. One late night in 2011 I watched my favourite team on TV in the NHL, Detroit Red Wings play a game. Red Wings had 2009 won the Stanley Cup with five Swedish players – this version of Red Wings had nine. Two of them were their captain Nicklas Lidström and Johan Franzén. Johan scored five goals that night and he will forever have a place in my heart as he gave me one of my happiest sports moments. Before this I was a Red Wings supporter, but that night in 2011, I became a Red Wings fan!

Fast forward to 2018. Johan has now ended his career due to psychological problems. He lives alone in a house far away from service and hockey in the outskirts of a small Swedish village. Nicklas has ended his active career as well but is working as manager in the Red Wings organisation. In an interview[1]Johan told a reporter that his problem started with the treatment he got from the Red Wings coach, Mike Babcock. Johan called Babcock the “worst person I have ever met” but didn’t go into any details. The coach was on his back always (but probably not on Nicklas’). Nothing happened of course on the pitch where people could see, but in the dressing room where the coach managed by fear. To become a captain in a sports team is special. You have earned it during years of great play, but also by being an informal leader in the team with your personality. The same goes for Nicklas, but here comes my problem with him. Nicklas has been confronted, or should I say kindly asked (as the reporter probably had huge respect for him), with this statement from Johan, but claims that “he didn’t see anything”. Bullshit! Bless you Nicklas, you were there in the locker room! You saw what happened, not only with Johan but with other players too. And you looked away instead of showing balls, candour, and team spirit to challenge the coach’s treatment of your team-mates. Of course, I don’t know the details from the locker room, but there are no players that want to risk their career by criticizing his coach. This is the norm in the NHL still today. You shut up or play somewhere else. Nicklas, you will forever be the best player in my book – but the worst captain.

So, when your team is about to select a captain, make sure that the player has not only the formal skills, but also the trust from the players.Not a captain assigned by the coach. This is applicable in business also, not only in sports.

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

[1] Ex-Red Wing Johan Franzén calls Mike Babcock ’the worst (person) I have ever met’: