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Gordie Howe, the Great One’s great one

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

 

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They called him Mr. Hockey for good reason. He was one of the sport’s icons. “If people someday compare me to Gordie Howe, it will be the biggest compliment they could pay me,” says Wayne Gretzky, who broke several of Howe’s records. “If you ask me about my idol, there’s just one: Gordie.”

Howe set 11 major National Hockey League records and dozens of minor ones. He has these messages for would-be leaders:

1. Don’t accept put-downs. Howe had it rough as a shy child with a slight learning disability. Classmates called him a stupid “dough head.”

His thick-skinned and demanding father told him: “Don’t let anyone throw dirt on you because they’ll just keep doing it.”

It was good advice. As a pro, Howe ignored both oral and physical hits.

2. Harness your passion. Howe was the NHL’s most valuable player six times and held the scoring title for six seasons.

“I was totally in love with the game,” he says. “If you’re not in love with what you’re doing, just move over and make room for somebody who is. If you can’t enjoy it, it’s ridiculous to play. I’d still be playing if I could.”

3. Persist. Howe played NHL hockey 32 seasons, holding records for most games played (1,767) and most games including playoffs (1,924).

4. Overprepare. From age 5 on, Howe played during every free moment, from breakfast to early evening, and on every surface, from local rinks to frozen ponds. He played every position. In his early years as a pro, he was maybe the only switch-hitter in hockey. If no one else would play, he practiced by himself. To strengthen his legs, he skated two- or three-mile intervals against the wind, sometimes in temperatures of 25 below zero.

5. Come back. Howe held nothing back and paid for it. He damaged his ribs, nose, wrist, toes and shoulder. He lost his front teeth. He took about 500 stitches in the face. And in 1950, Howe fractured his skull, needing surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.

“There are several superstars in hockey,” said a commentator, “but there is only one superman—and he is Gordie Howe.”

— Adapted from “He Didn’t Just Skate To The Top—He Earned It,” Michael Richman, Investor’s Business Daily. Photo: Wikimedia

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