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Tortorella Leadership Series: Part II

Exploring the concepts of leadership and its development with John Tortorella

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

This is the second part of a series of articles exploring the concepts of leadership with Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. We talked about what leadership is, how you develop it in players and coaches, and the progression of the Jackets' leaders themselves. You can read Part I HERE.

John Tortorella has been at the helm of a Blue Jackets team that has achieved record setting success on the ice and gained the trust of the coaching staff off of it.

But some of the most significant change has nothing to do with how the players are playing the game.

"I always watch how our people are developing," Tortorella said. "I've backed off in the details of the X's and O's. We have our foundation, but I think this team reacts better when you let them go a little bit and don't dot every 'i' cross every 't' and over-coach them.

"I like giving them the rope, and not just the leadership group, but all the players because you want to develop them to be better leaders."

Tortorella calls it being a "feel coach." While some coaches are more by the book, Tortorella has been slowly handing over responsibility and trust in different situations to see how a player, or the entire team reacts. And then, he responds accordingly.

"You've got to let them experience things as far as players without you butting in and saying why are you going that way? Why did you say it that way?" Tortorella said.

"Those are things you give them. You trust them, and you let them go with it, or sometimes you ask if you babysit and hold their hand or kick them? There's so many different ways to go about it. You get lucky some times and you make the right decision, and you don't sometimes, and you make the wrong decision."


In the past year, the head coach has seen players take a "huge step as far as the mental part of the game" and as the players have changed, he and his staff have adjusted in response.

"As coaches, we've had to swallow the itch to control everything," Tortorella said. "That's a good trait for a leader, to want to control, to want to be in it and make the decisions; get second guessed. That's a mental toughness that's really good, but it's even harder to say 'you know what, I've got to let go of some of this so other people can grow.' That's a huge step as far as a team concept."

As the team evolves, managing the team of coaches' evolving leadership is never off Tortorella's radar either. He's stayed away from his assistant coaches meetings and given them the run of practices and other aspects of team preparation.

"I have to empower the assistant coaches too," Tortorella said. "And I don't even consider them assistant coaches. You're with these players so long that you need a different voice. You need a different way that it's projected. I've backed off quite a bit.

"I know who I am, I'm very honest and very forthright and sometimes it's hard for people to hear some things sometimes. I want to be really careful that I don't wear people down so I want other people to say it in a different way. I think that's very important when you're managing people you're with every day."

Lest you think Tortorella is above mentorship and development he works on with the rest of his team He's also put himself on the list of people who need to be assessed.

"As a coach you have to self-evaluate yourself," Tortorella said. "No one is coming in your room and saying 'you did it the right way,' 'you did it the wrong way.' You have to think 'did I do it the right way there?'"

Self taught through years of observing coaches behind the bench before he was there himself, Tortorella says one can never stop drawing from what's happening right in front of him. Every reaction to a conversation, and response to a change or tactic, is a lesson to be learned in what to repeat, or what to never do again.

"You have to keep an open mind," Tortorella said. "You have to listen more too. You have to be willing to change. It's changing daily how athletes think. That's where I'm juiced about it because I think I'm learning about myself that way where I just think I can be better.

"I've made huge mistakes but I think I'm getting better because I'm learning from them. Don't think it's always them learning from you. You better learn from them. Because these players and coaches, they're pretty smart."

Watch for the third part of this series coming soon.

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