December 2, 2019

Mental models

#82 – Mark Messier: Leadership, personal growth, and performing under pressure

"No great leader is mistake-free. Every leader makes mistakes, but it's the equity that you've built up into the people that you are around that will forgive you for making an honest mistake. . . [and they] aren't going to abandon you because of that mistake. . .they still trust your vision and how you can get there." — Mark Messier

Read Time 28 minutes

In this episode, Mark Messier, six-time Stanley Cup champion, shares the most valuable lessons he picked up over 25+ years of professional hockey resulting in one of the longest and most decorated careers in hockey history. Mark shares what lead to his unique brand of humble leadership, how he was able to get talented individuals to effectively work as a team, the importance of maturing and evolving as a person, and how he was able to stay calm and perform at his best under enormous amounts of pressure. Additionally, we go through his favorite moments as a player, what it was like playing with and learning from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, and much more. 

Want more content like this? Check out our interviews with Kristin Neff on the power of self-compassion and Esther Perel on the effects of trauma.


We discuss:

  • Overview of Mark’s extraordinary 25+ year professional hockey career [7:15];
  • The trend towards kids focusing on one sport earlier and earlier—A good or bad thing? [12:00];
  • Mark’s early passion for hockey, and when he realized it could be his “job” [14:15];
  • Going pro at age 17 [19:30];
  • Mark’s favorite experience playing professional hockey [25:45];
  • Playing with (and learning from) the great Wayne Gretzky [26:40];
  • A hard lesson learned in his first year as a pro [32:00];
  • Lessons learned from losing his first Stanley Cup Finals [35:45];
  • Redemption—Winning his first Stanley Cup and the beginning of a dynasty in Edmonton [41:15];
  • Importance of team character [54:00];
  • The shocking trade of Wayne Gretzky, and Mark stepping up as the new leader and team captain [59:30];
  • Playing for the New York Rangers—the lure of the city and the pressure to perform [1:07:00];
  • Ending the 54-year championship drought for the New York Rangers [1:13:30];
  • Becoming a great leader [1:16:30];
  • How to win the mental war against your opponent [1:20:30];
  • Opposing players for which Mark had great respect [1:22:00];
  • Retiring after an unbelievably long and lustrous career [1:27:00];
  • How to leverage stress and nervousness into a positive force [1:32:45];
  • The most important quality—A willingness to learn, improve, and evolve [1:36:00];
  • What does Mark do today for exercise to stay in great shape? [1:44:30];
  • Why playing sports is such a great thing for kids [1:49:30];
  • The Mark Messier Foundation [1:53:00];
  • How has Mark avoided the “loss of identity” feeling which plagues many retired athletes? [1:56:15];
  • Does Mark think it’s possible to reproduce a team as good as his Oilers teams of the 80s? [1:59:30];
  • Would Mark ever want to coach in the NHL? [2:03:00];
  • Will the Toronto Maple Leafs ever win the Stanley cup? [2:04:00]; and
  • More.


Overview of Mark’s extraordinary 25+ year professional hockey career [7:15]

  • Mark retired from hockey ~14 years go
  • Played in the NHL for 25+ years
  • Started professionally at age 17 (in the WHA)

Amazing Oilers teams of the 1980s

Figure 1. 1980 Oilers – Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson. Image credit:

“Once I started really going abroad, and that really hit it home with that we were doing something special, and actually, we had a really special team with some amazing players, that was being recognized around the world.”


The trend towards kids focusing on one sport earlier and earlier—A good or bad thing? [12:00]

Mark grew up in near Edmonton

  • His father played for the Portland Buckaroos and then in 1968 they moved back to Edmonton
  • Starting playing hockey at 6 years old
  • Mark played other sports like baseball in the springtime

The trend towards earlier and earlier specialization

  • Some would dispute is not the most healthy thing for kids to specialize so early
  • A better approach actually, …..

{end of show notes preview}

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Mark Messier

Mark Messier is one of the greatest players in the history of the National Hockey League. He is known for his prodigious accomplishments, unparalleled leadership skills, and unwavering dedication and loyalty to his team. Mark’s achievements over the entirety of his 26-year NHL career are astounding: Six Stanley Cup championships, 1887 points scored, placing him third on the all-time NHL list (behind only Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr), two Hart Memorial trophies as the league’s Most Valuable Player, and his standing as the only professional athlete ever to captain two different franchises – the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers – to championships. He will always be cherished by New Yorkers for his success with the Rangers, especially for his legendary heroics in 1994 when he led the Blueshirts to their first Stanley Cup championship in fifty-four years.

Mark Messier’s post-career honors are numerous and ongoing. In 2007, Mark was a first-ballot selection to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and in 2009, he received the Lester Patrick Award for his outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States. In February of 2017, as the National Hockey League launched its 100th anniversary celebration, Mark was named to the list of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players of All-Time. In June of 2017 Mark was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, a highly prestigious award which recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation of Canada.

Since retiring as a player in 2004, Mark has taken on executive roles with the New York Rangers and Hockey Canada and was a founder of the Messier Project that developed the M-11 hockey helmet to maximize protection, particularly in regard to concussions. Mark currently serves on the board of Answer the Call, the NY Police & Fire Widows’s and Children’s Fund, and is an active supporter of the Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund.

In 2007, the NHL instituted the annual Mark Messier Leadership Award, given annually to the player who combines excellent on-ice performance with extraordinary dedication to community and charity involvement. It is in service of those ideals of social responsibility, that Mark has created the Mark Messier Foundation. In the world of sports, the name Mark Messier has become synonymous with leadership, compassion, and success. Now, in behalf of the Mark Messier Foundation, he harnesses those same attributes to meaningfully improve the lives of those in need. []

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