Monday, June 7, 2010

John Wooden: An Extraordinary Leader Departs

John Wooden was an extraordinary leader. Every leader or aspiring one can learn from him. While most of the obituaries and tributes point out his phenomenal record as the coach of the UCLA men's basketball team and former players hail his profound influence on their lives, there was so much more to this man. He was the epitome of leadership under pressure. Sports fans will remember him sitting there through every game, pretty calm, that rolled up program in his hand. Whether the team was winning or losing, he seemed unflappable. In fact, one of the few times he ever seemed to lose his cool was when he believed the players were not giving the game everything they were capable of. Here's what Wooden had to say about losing and winning.

To me, success isn't outscoring someone, it's the peace of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best. That's something each individual must determine for himself. You can fool others, but you can't fool yourself.
Many people are surprised to learn that in 27 years at UCLA, I never once talked about winning. Instead I would tell my players before games, 'When it's over, I want your head up. And there's only one way your head can be up, that's for you to know, not me, that you gave the best effort of which you're capable. If you do that, then the score doesn't really matter, although I have a feeling that if you do that, the score will be to your liking.' I honestly, deeply believe that in not stressing winning as such, we won more than we would have if I'd stressed outscoring opponents.
There's no great fun, satisfaction or joy derived from doing something that's easy. Failure is never fatal, but failure to change might be.
Your strength as an individual depends on, and will be in direct proportion to, how you react to both praise and criticism. If you become too concerned about either, the effect on you is certain to be adverse.
I always taught players that the main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team. It's amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.
I have often said, 'The mark of a true champion is to always perform near your own level of competency.' We were able to do that by never being satisfied with the past and always planning for what was to come. I believe that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. This constant focus on the future is one reason we continued staying near the top once we got there.
...I was as concerned with a player's character as I was with his ability.
While it may be possible to reach the top of one's profession on sheer ability, its impossible to stay there without hard work and character. One's character is what you really are. Your reputation is only what others think you are. I made a determined effort to evaluate character. I looked for young men who would play the game hard, but clean, and who would always be trying to improve themselves to help the team. Then if their ability warranted it, the championships would take care of themselves.

These simple but profound insights are applied by great leaders...the others whether in business, politics, government, of nonprofits or NGOs could change their direction and results immediately by following them. Wooden's record is a testament to the power of his leadership: no losing seasons in his 27 years, 10 national championships in 12 years - 7 in succession, world record for winning 88 games in a row. But sports records eventually fall. Leadership records do not, and applied leadership lessons can live forever. Are you ready to learn from Wooden? Do you have the character and ability and willingness to do the hard work? If so...

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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Quotes originally from an ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1986 and reprinted in Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality, Rafael Aguayo, Simon & Schuster, 1990