JWMI Connect Series: Leadership Lessons from “Miracle”

JWMI Connect Series: Leadership Lessons from “Miracle”

It’s easy to be discouraged as the underdog. Can you look at adversity and be excited about conquering the challenges and opportunities it presents?

As part of the ongoing webinar series offered through our networking portal JWMI Connect, Lou Melocchi, Financial Management II Professor and Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance at F.N.B. Corporation, used the movie “Miracle” to illustrate how a leader’s attitude, emotional intelligence, and energy can unleash the potential in others and move them from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture.

A leader has to have positive energy. You can’t come to work with your head down, scared. Leave your home problems at home, and your work fears at the back of your mind.  –Jack Welch

The movie is based on the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s stunning upset of the unbeatable Soviet Union team in the Olympic medal round. Dubbed “The Miracle On Ice,” the win is considered one of U.S. sports history’s greatest upsets.

3 Leadership Lessons from “Miracle”


A good business leader creates a vision, articulates the vision, passionately owns the vision and relentlessly drives it to completion.  –Jack Welch

The right vision asks, “How do we intend to win in this business?” It balances the possible with the impossible and has the power to excite people. Leaders continuously talk about the mission, set goals and behaviors aligned to that mission, relentlessly measure success, and reinforce it with rewards.

In “Miracle,” Herb Brooks had a vision—upset the Soviet Union hockey team who had won the previous four Olympics. During his coaching interview, Brooks sold his vision to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), whose only goal was to avoid embarrassment at the upcoming Games. Brooks carefully articulated his goals and strategy to achieve his vision and secure the job: create a willingness to change, prepare differently, change the gameplay, and improve team chemistry.

In the movie, Lou Nanne, a USOC member, says to coach Herb Brooks, “It’s a pretty lofty goal, Herb.” Herb replies, “Well, Lou… that’s why I want to pursue it.”

From the first player tryout, Coach Brooks outlined the mindset and behaviors the players must embrace. For example, he demanded the U.S. arrive at the Games as the best conditioned and fastest team. Brooks implemented relentless blue line to blue line drills during each practice, to the complaints of his players. Yet, he presented the reward for those that embraced his goal, telling players, “The fastest way to make this team is by being fast.”


Business is the ultimate team sport. And the team with the best players wins. Yet, a team full of talent will fail every time if their leader can’t align them. Moving your team from a ‘me’ culture to a ‘we’ culture taps and ignites individual strengths and talents to achieve the vision.

In the movie, Coach Brooks explains to the Olympic Selection Committee that previous U.S. All-Star teams lost because they relied solely on individual talent. To win the gold, the U.S. needed to model a Soviet team that “takes talent and uses it inside a system designed for the betterment of the team.”

Brooks knew he needed the right team chemistry. But at the onset of training, the team was plagued by big egos and old rivalries. Everyone was out for themselves. At every practice, Brooks asked players, “Who do you play for?”, knowing the answer was critical to shifting the team’s mindset. For weeks, the players called out the name of their college or club. Finally, after a brutal conditioning session imposed after a poor game performance, Brooks gets the answer he needed. “Who do you play for?” he asked. Exhausted, the team captain, Mike Eruzione, responds, “I play for…the United States of America!”

In “Miracle,” Mike Eruzione wasn’t the strongest person on the team, but he was the best leader. Brooks made him captain because he was personable, perceptive, and willing to speak up. He engaged his teammates despite their differences. And it was Eruzione who helped the team see that they played for the name on the front of their jersey, not the back.


The U.S. hockey team faced adversity at every turn. Not only from the ‘unbeatable’ Soviet team but also with the USOC and its own early failures on the ice. Brooks used adversity to rally his team to believe that “great moments are born from great opportunity.”

The Coach believed in the power of encouragement. He knew that on paper, the U.S. team was still outmatched in the gold medal game. In his final locker room speech, Brooks reminded the players that the gold was possible because they simply could. “You were born to be hockey players; “You were meant to be here.”; “This is your time.” 

And he never stopped communicating. At no time was anyone ever in doubt about the vision, the goal, or the initiatives. A good leader combines a can-do attitude, encourages when needed, and focuses on what he can control when faced with adversity. As Jack Welch says, “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. . . Because then they will act.”

The Jack Welch MBA teaches students how to build teams and become better leaders. Thought leadership webinars through our student and alumni portal, JWMI Connect, allow students to complement the classroom lessons in their professional lives.

To read more from Lou Melocchi’s Leadership Webinar Series, visit:


About Lou Melocchi:
Lou is a Finance Professor at JWMI as well as a senior financial leader with over 22 years of experience in corporate and divisional finance roles at both Fortune 150 companies and mid-market high growth companies. His functional expertise lies in financial planning and analysis, data analytics, and corporate finance.

Lou spent about half of his manufacturing career with two large manufacturing conglomerates, Alcoa and Honeywell International, in a variety of information technology and financial/operations analysis roles. The other half of his career has been spent in services industries—largely education, healthcare, and financial services, in various finance roles. He currently serves as Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance for First National Bank Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA, and oversees finance-operations and investor relations.

Lou prides himself on having a polymodal educational background, and believes that “there are no uninteresting topics… only uninterested people.” He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Accounting from Saint Vincent College, a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management and Industrial Administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and a Doctorate in Marketing from Argosy University.