John Wooden passed away on June 4, 2010, at age 99.
If you don’t know basketball, I could go on longer than any of us want giving you Coach Wooden’s biography. But, I’ll summarize in a few words:
John Wooden won 10 national championships in 12 years (the closest any other coach has come is 4 in a career). He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach (one of only three people so enshrined). In 2009, The Sporting News named him “The Greatest Coach of All Time.” (As I said, I could go on, but I won’t. However, if you’re interested in more information here is his Wikipedia entry)
But here’s the thing . . . John Wooden hasn’t remained relevant for 35 years after his coaching career ended just because he was a great coach.
He remained relevant, talked about and revered because he set high standards for himself and his players. He always considered himself a teacher first.
The rest of this article focuses on Coach Wooden’s words. Here are five of his favorite maxims and teachings from the book Wooden – A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court.
I have purposely chosen ideas that maybe are aren’t the most directly linked to your role as a leader and then added a few words from my perspective to connect Coach’s teachings to leadership.
“Move, move, move!” Coach Wooden said this phrase may have been the one he used with his players more than any other. He was referring to moving physically, of course, but also mentally. Leaders must always remember this too. You must move. You must take action. You must be thinking. You must be progressing. This is what leaders do. If you want to lead, move!
“Earn the right to be proud and confident.” Pride, contrary to the belief of many, isn’t a bad thing. Rather, when used appropriately, pride is a powerful influencer of self and others. Coach Wooden got it right when he started with the word earn. When you strive to earn the right to be proud, you have genuine reason for that powerful pride. Confidence, of course, is critical to your ability to perform (especially at levels approaching your capability and potential). And, true confidence can’t be claimed (that is baseless boasting), it must be earned. Earn these for yourself, and help, support and encourage others to do the same.
“Ability may get you to the top. But character will keep you there.” History and recent headlines prove this again and again. As an individual, focus on your character, not just your ability; as a leader, hire for character and build people up based on their character. When you do you will get better results in the short and long term.
“You can do more good by being good than any other way.” Leaders want to ‘do good’ – you want to serve Customers. You want to make a difference. You want to improve things. Coach Wooden’s maxim reminds that all of those great ambitions, and all of the good you are capable of doing in the world, starts with your actions. Challenge yourself to “be good” as a first step towards creating good in the world around you.
“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.” This may be the most famous quotation attributed to Coach Wooden. It is profoundly true. For leaders the implications are huge. As a leader you aren’t the expert, those doing the work are. As a leader, you can’t possibly know all there is to know about leadership, it is too complex. There are as many connections and lessons for this truth as there are people reading it. I will leave it to you to find the personal value for yourself.
This article is more than a memorial to Coach Wooden.
It is a call to action for all of us to lead, teach and live to a higher standard, to move closer to our potential. I hope he would be proud.
For even more information (if you’re interested), there are many fine books written by and about Coach Wooden (including the one mentioned above). However, from a leadership perspective I recommend Wooden On Leadership.