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Book review: Leave No Doubt by Mike Babcock

Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams

By Mike Babcock

Everyone wants to be on a winning team.

Yet some of us are satisfied with being just good enough.

Good enough gets us by. Good enough keeps things comfortable and familiar.  Good enough lets us play it safe.

But settling for just good enough should make you afraid. Very, very afraid.

Somewhere out there is a competitor who’s not settling. Someone who’s relentlessly driven to get better and become the best. Someone who’s constantly learning, testing and pushing their limits and taking risks.

Detroit Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock is no fan of just good enough.  He says it’s his one fear and motivator. 

“That fear keeps me activated,” says Babcock, the only hockey coach to lead teams to Stanley Cub, World Championship and Olympic Games victories. “It keeps me grinding to get better. It’s a fear that has helped me take every step in my career.”

Babcock says it’s a good kind of fear, one that doesn’t paralyze or wear you out. “It can push you to break through and hit your potential – to make a difference. It can push you to a success that at first seems unreachable. Good enough is where you find average.”

The drive to be better is where you find and realize your potential. It’s where the fun is. It’s where you come up big, be a gamechanger, get to your dreams and find joy.

And it’s a fear that can get you to the podium for an Olympic gold medal.  Not settling for good enough was part of the credo that Babcock and long-time friend and ad exec Rick Larsen came up with for Team Canada in 2010. The credo hung in the dressing room throughout the two weeks of the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Leading off that credo was leave no doubt.

“Doubt is the biggest energy-taker there is. It eats away at our emotional core. It drains us of mental energy and physical energy. It demoralizes, distracts and demotivates. A lot of people say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’. But they never do.”

Babcock says if you’re feeling doubt, go first. Jump in and give it a go. Putting yourself out there is a great way to learn and grow. And the more you push, the more you grow.

 Babcock faced a world of doubt in 1993. He’d just been fired from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. He and his wife had a three-month-old baby, no money in the bank and few job prospects. 

But then Babcock got two offers. One was with a business consulting firm. The other was with the University of Lethbridge, coaching a hockey team that had never made the playoffs and was at risk of being shut down.

The consulting gig offered more money, stability and a clear career path.

Babcock pushed past doubt and took the coaching gig.  In his first season, the Lethbridge Pronghorns won their first national championship. Babcock went on to coach the WHL Spokane Chiefs, the Canadian team at the World Junior Championships, the American Hockey League Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, the National Hockey League Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.

“I’m not sure that anybody would have looked at me in 1993 as I began my stint as the head coach of the University of Lethbridge, and figured me a good bet to be the head coach of Canada’s hockey team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Then again, if you put yourself out there, if you take a risk and face your doubt, good things can start to happen. I’m living proof of that. Don’t doubt your dreams.”

Anyone who’s leading a team on or off the ice will learn something from one of the best coaches in the business. That said, Babcock should have taken his own advice and hired an editor who wasn’t just good enough. While Babcock sings the praises of Shea Webster, odds are his Red Wings will break the bank to make defenseman Shea Weber their top free-agent acquisition this off-season.

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and is a long-suffering Washington Capitals fan.

Book review: Speaking as a Leader

An edited version of this review ran in the April 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak

By Judith Humphrey

John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.


I went to a conference in Washington last month to learn how to write better speeches.

As an added bonus, I got a two-day master class in how to give a great speech. The conference featured keynotes by three seasoned speechwriters who proved they’re as good on the podium as they are with a pen (kudos to Mark Schumann, Justina Chen and Terry Edmonds — the first African American to serve as a presidential speechwriter).

All three made an immediate and sustained connection with the audience. They were absolutely passionate about the craft of speechwriting. Their speeches were well-rehearsed conversations that didn’t feel scripted or staged. They told stories and shared lessons learned with a healthy mix of self-deprecating humour.

Just as impressive is what these speakers didn’t do.  They didn’t inflict death by PowerPoint. They didn’t bore us and bury us in a data dump. They didn’t limit themselves to telling us what they knew. They told with us what they believed.

And perhaps most important of all, they knew they were on stage as much to inspire as to inform.

In short, these keynote speakers communicated like leaders.

“The most effective leaders use every speaking opportunity to influence and inspire,” says author Judith Humphrey, who’s also the founder and president of an executive communications firm. “They make every formal speech, presentation, phone call, or elevator conversation a leadership opportunity. They realize that their power lies less in any title they hold than in their ability to move others. They realize that the true task of a leader is to create believers.”

Great leaders stick to a script, says Humphrey.  That script leads off with an introduction that includes a grabber, subject, message and structural statement. 

To grab the attention of your audience, share a story, quote or interesting fact or stat. Then state the subject. What do you want to talk about?  The message spells out where you stand on the topic in a single, simple sentence.  The introduction closes with a structural statement that previews how you’ll make your case and prove your point.

The introduction is followed by the body of your script.  Here’s where you set out your arguments. You can run through three key points. Talk about the challenge and then offer your solution. Look at the present and preview what the future could hold.

The leader’s script ends with a two-part conclusion. You restate your message and then issue a call to action. What do you want people to do next?

Humphrey says the script will help transform your audience into followers, and your speaking into an act of leadership.

Along with sticking to a script, great leaders speak with conviction. They’re passionate, authentic, courageous and honest in their communications.  They use small and simple words to sell big ideas.

Great leaders look to the positive, focusing on solutions rather than problems. “Negatives bring people down, rather than lifting them up. If you want to lead when you speak, stay on the high ground.”

Great leaders listen physically, mentally and emotionally to secure a lifeline to their audience. “You must understand precisely what concerns and motivates your listeners or they will never follow you. You must get inside the minds of your audience and shape what you say so that it reaches them.”

Great leaders don’t paste jokes onto the front end of their communications. “Great speeches, presentations and meeting comments are not dull. They are enlivened with wit, quotations and anecdotes. But they do not rely on canned humour or tired jokes.” Count on at least someone in the audience taking offense or not getting your humour. And few of us have the comedic timing to pull off a joke.

Great leaders also recognize that they’re the best visual. They want their audience to watch and listen without distraction. The danger with PowerPoint – even when it’s a handful of slick slides with killer graphics – is that you divide your audience’s attention. Minds can wander and never return.

“When speakers use visuals, they create competition for the audience’s attention. The audience must divide its focus looking at the visual and listening to you. Your visuals get star billing; what you are saying finishes a distant second in the audience’s mind.”

Humphrey’s point was underscored at the speechwriters’ conference. One of the presenters talked about the wonders of using video in speeches. But technical snafus derailed the video-heavy presentation, rattled the speaker and lost the audience. While that’s all I can remember from that session, I have no trouble recalling the big ideas, inspiring words and passion from the trio of keynote speakers who showed how it’s done.

@jayrobb works in Hamilton and dreams of living in Georgetown.