Leadership Lab: Foster that Family Feeling

A team of friends is great, but a team that becomes a family can win championships.

Welcome to Leadership Lab, a new weekly post from writer Chris DePiero. As you can read in his bio below, DePiero is as experienced as people get in hockey and we’re excited to give him a weekly platform to provide a hands-on approach to becoming a better leader. Every Tuesday DePiero will share knowledge, wisdom, tips and tricks that everyone from elite executives to passionate parents can learn from. Enjoy!


We tend to think that group performance or high achieving cultures are dependent on measurable abilities like intelligence, skill and experience, and not based on patterns of specific behaviours.

When you ask people (inside highly successful groups, businesses or companies, but especially hockey teams) to describe their relationship with one another, they all tend to choose the same word. This word is not friends or team or tribe or any other facsimile. The word used is FAMILY.

What is very interesting though is when you see interviews with players after they win a championship. Invariably, they speak about the ‘closeness of the team,’ or ‘we all get along so well,’ ‘these guys are like my brothers/sisters,’ and ultimately ‘we are like one big family.’

Back in the 2003-04 NHL season, John Tortorella was the Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Legend has it that he gifted his players with the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The book details companies that were able to take themselves to greater heights in sales, stock price, market share, and overall impact in their respective industries. There is a standard by which they govern themselves by, hold themselves to, and execute towards, and that is what Tortorella is now doing with the Philadelphia Flyers, who are off to a pretty good start to the 2022-23 season.

That season with Tampa, Tortorella was fond of saying ‘safe is death,’ which seems to be the theme of Good to Great, as it is declared that ‘good is the enemy of great.’ There is a thread of being able to take your performance to greater heights. This happens when the team has a trust in one another, where each member is really given permission to take risks, and lay it out there every play, and know that their ‘brother/sister’ has their back. 

Families are bound by loyalty and a sense of always being committed to a greater good, the same can be said for high performance teams and the synergies are very well documented. The question I have for all of you coaches out there is, how are you fostering that family atmosphere/environment with your team?


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Chris De Piero

Chris is a Senior High-Performance Coach and has spent the past 30+ years in the game of hockey as a player, Head Coach, General Manager, scout, mentor, consultant and most importantly as a parent. He has done so in the NHL, with Hockey Canada, in the OHL and the OHA, as well as European pro hockey. In addition, he has spent 15+ years as a classroom teacher as well as being in leadership positions as an administrator with a private high school in Toronto.

Chris has coached over 100 players who have played and/or been drafted into the NHL, and 100+ players who have gone on to play NCAA or USport hockey. He has won multiple championships as a Head Coach and GM, notably winning a Stanley Cup ring from being a member of the scouting staff of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2012-2016.

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