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Unpopularty Contest

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Mike Babcock (“Babs”) is a pro hockey coach that has won at many levels.  His most obvious resume checkboxes are a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals in men’s ice hockey. The job of a head coach is a hot seat role, facing the media’s scrutiny regularly and having countless eyes and keyboards pointed in their direction. 
One summer, in preparation for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russian, Babs and Hockey Canada held an outdoor ball hockey practice where the players ran through systems with gloves, sticks and running shoes over cement. The costs of insuring over 1.5B of NHL contracts were too much to take on and he needed a way to get players on the same page early. Preparation time was sparse to galvanize together a group of top-talent where many had to take on “lesser” roles before heading to Sochi to compete in the games. The media laughed and made fun of the stunt until one comment from Babs surfaced: “At the end of the day, when we win gold, ball hockey will have been a good idea.”

Executing an unpopular decision takes bravery. It means understanding what needs to be done more than your critics and trusting that your analysis of the situation is correct.  It means you have thought deeper about the details, tangents, repercussions and opportunities of the maneuver and know with all your heart that the act will lead positive outcomes.

People talk, but it does not mean they are right and it does not mean what they are saying is true. Outsiders are less invested in your goal and if they find time to discuss it with so much passion, then what you are doing is important to them. That importance leads to engagement, followership and growth.

We do not necessarily need to make popular decisions, the ones the average person would see as normal or expected. Rather, we need to make the appropriate decisions. Sometimes, those are unpopular.

Silencing those critics is best done by succeeding.  When you win, it takes away others’ arguments and forces your competitors to follow. Being successful sometimes means finding comfort in being uncomfortable as you did previously.  

In the contest of business and life, make the moves you need to, not the ones the world wants you to.

Photograph: (Jeff McIntosh)
Interesting note:

As a courtesy, I explained the superficial level of what I thought Layered Leadership can become to a close friend. We have done business together in some of the areas it touches, so as a courtesy I felt it was important to give him the opportunity to be part of whatever this could become before it began.

Politely, he laughed: “I thought you worked out on your spare time.”

“I do, but I think on it too.”

He was supportive and happy that I was engaged in something passionate, but was not interested in putting energy into it.  The rest of that day I received text message jokes about how he was busy writing a book and catching a plane to speak at a conference in San Francisco. 

This journey is unpopular, it is my ball hockey…I believe in it and do not expect others to automatically accept it. 

Bring it.

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