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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Leading in a high-performance environment

Updated: Sep 23, 2021


Dave Veale interviews Kevin Dickie, Athletic Director, at the University of New Brunswick as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

Hockey and Business -success depends on recruiting people with a burning desire to succeed.

As a hockey lover – and a Canadian – you can imagine how exciting it was for me to sit down with the University of New Brunswick’s athletic director, Kevin Dickie, to talk about leadership and hockey. Kevin has quite a coaching resume with 18 years of coaching under his belt.

Dickie had the opportunity to travel to the Czech Republic/Slovakia with Canada’s under-18 national team as a coach when they brought home the gold in 1999. Kevin was also a coach with Canada’s world junior team in 2000 in Moscow when they received a bronze medal. He experienced winning and losing on a very public stage – not unlike what a leader experiences when navigating the ups and downs of running a business.

University of New Brunswick athletic director Kevin Dickie says a leader’s job is to create an environment in which people can go on to have success.

Kevin is now in the business of leading and growing what he describes as a ‘high performance environment,’ which has supported the UNB Varsity Reds in being recognized regionally and nationally as a top overall program. Leading in this environment is no small task, as the Reds are made up of eight varsity sports teams, each with its own unique personality and measurement of success.

I started our conversation by asking Kevin about the elements of a high-performance environment?

A: We have three pillars: We measure success in the sport arena, academic success and success in the community.

Q: In order to achieve success in these three pillars what do you need to focus on as a leader?

A: It starts with the people – no question about it. Our student athletes are the reason that we are here, they are the foundation for everything that we do. We work very hard at recruiting good people and this is systemic through our program – a foundational piece.

We recruit over 94 per cent of our athletes. We start out trying to keep the best kids from Fredericton as well as New Brunswick. We also go out nationally and internationally so we can have the best student athletes possible competing at the varsity level.

Q: What is required of you, as a leader, to help your organization create and sustain a high performance environment?

A: Our eight teams are led by different coaches. I was a coach for 18 years, so I’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I provide mentorship at times, which is a critical piece. I also think that leadership is about creating a vision and then walking the walk and making sure everybody is thinking the same way. This is a work in progress and can be challenging because, in these tough economic times, your vision sometimes gets distorted.

I also focus on growth planning and performance reviewing. Right now, much of my work with our coaches and staff involves growth planning.

Q: If you think back to your coaching days, is there anything that stands out in your mind as the challenging time that you got the most growth from?

A: When I went to Acadia University to coach the men’s team, I was hired as the guy from the West and the athletic director went above and beyond to make sure that he felt that I was the best person when he hired me. I went through a seven-week period where we didn’t win a game. To make a long story short, at the end of that year, we played in a national championship final game. To think that we had gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in that short a period of time. I learned that it is possible to turn things around quickly.

Q: What helped turn things around?

A: What it really boiled down to was support. The person who I was accountable to made me feel really good about staying the course. He hired me because he believed in my core values, he believed in what I was all about. That was the biggest thing for me – to have been supported at that low point allowed me to take a deep breath and be able to stay the course.

Q: What is it that makes Canadians so successful in hockey? Is it that we are the most talented?

A: We possess a burning desire to succeed. It’s that sincere, driven passion to win.

Q: So you look for this burning passion when you build your teams and your organization?

A: Absolutely, I am a pretty good judge of people. I’m not usually wrong from my initial time I spend with somebody. One of the things I look for is the burning passion to be the best that you can be. You can’t hide that. Do I see it in people? I see it in people all the time. I don’t think you can create that stuff, I think it’s just a part of your fibre.

Q: Would it be fair to say that in some people you see the flame and for others it’s a spark that you need to put a little gasoline on to get it going?

A: Yes, absolutely. People’s dreams may have been squashed by family, by parents, by the neighborhood they live in, but you can see that if you give them a chance in a different place they can be successful.

Q: How would you finish the following sentence? “A leader’s job is to …”

A: A leader’s job is to create an environment where people can go on to have success in more than one area of life.

Q: Can you tell us someone who really inspires you?

A: For me it’s easy, it’s my wife. We’ve been together for 24 years and have had lots of different experiences in different places. It’s tough to explain, but she just keeps finding a way to keep the fire burning within me.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at His column appears every other Thursday. To read past columns go to

Published Thursday January 13th, 2011 in the Telegraph-Journal

Photo: Keith Minchin/For the Telegraph-Journal

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