When I was a kid, I was a ‘rink rat.’ If you play hockey, then you know what I mean. I found every excuse I could to spend time near the ice – playing, watching, helping, refereeing… Then, when I was about 16, I was offered a dream job: helping to run the local rink in my town. I was getting paid to do the thing I loved.
As much fun as it was, and I enjoyed every moment of it, it was also very formative. Responsibility. Organization. Conflict resolution. People skills. I could go on. The short story is this: Almost everything I needed to learn in management, I learned at the rink. In fact, there’s a lot that still applies to my job, as CEO of a company that’s in the business of people – recruiting.
Here are just a few of those lessons I learned while driving a Zamboni.
1. Preparation is key. I learned on my feet that preparation is key. When it snowed, you need to be in early and ready with a shovel to prepare the parking lot. You also needed to be self-sufficient, anticipating and preparing for setbacks. Will the snow cause delays and throw off the rink time schedule? If the Zamboni breaks, can we fix it? If refs can’t come to the game, will the games be able to continue? The fundamentals of preparation and anticipation were learned in
“Being able to manage expectations and mediate requests in real time taught me how to talk to people under pressure.”
2. Time management. Not just my time – others’ time, as well. Like most businesses, rinks are run on a schedule. So occasionally people and teams would overlap. Being able to manage expectations and mediate requests in real time taught me how to talk to people under pressure.
3. People skills. In a rink you interact with so many people throughout the day: referees, coaches, fans, parents, kids. I learned very early the importance of listening, of showing that you understand and that you really hear concerns and problems. In doing so, you can work to find compromise and solutions, often by motivating people to do something they may not necessarily want initially – but something they see as a viable solution and one that serves all involved. These are skills that I use almost every day, skills that I think can help any manager – whether you’re overseeing one person or 100.
4. Conflict management. In any people business, conflicts will arise. In my time at the rink I received a valuable lesson in high-stakes conflict management. During a peewee game, two coaches got into a fight. Luckily some parents helped me separate them, but not before I was punched in the face trying to stop them. Inevitably people will quarrel and sometimes there isn’t much you can do to stop it. But I learned over time to stay focused and manage a level head.
5. Importance of a good work ethic. Simply leaving your space nicer than you found it is one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Not everyone is going to take a job as seriously as you might, but that shouldn’t deter you from giving it your best. And if someone else drops the ball, all you can do is roll up your sleeves and pick up from where they left it. I remember one day when no referees showed up and we had games scheduled back-to-back. So I grabbed skates out of my car, threw on a shirt and jumped on the ice – while cleaning the ice between the games. It was a long, exhausting day, but the satisfaction of getting it done on my own and the appreciation from the teams and rink owner was well worth it.
When you invest your time and energy in something, especially if it’s something you have a passion for, it’s amazing what you can take from it.