What I Learned From Coach Wooden

July 14th, 2010 1 Comment

John Wooden recently passed away. He was the long time UCLA Basketball Coach with record wins and unmatched honors. Beyond his accolades and honors, he has said that the letters from his individual players are his treasures. That absolutely fits what I have come to know about Coach Wooden.

I always mention John Wooden when I talk about leadership. I don’t even know much about basketball other than enjoying a game or two here and there. My interest in Coach Wooden is in his well known leadership mastery, the impact he had on others. He believed a coach is a teacher. The impact of this perspective, the coach as teacher, meant developing players as people, developing the whole person rather than focusing on winning and loosing the game. His viewpoint was about improving the individual. This concept is so powerful: developing self leadership by continuously trying to better yourself, focusing on pursuing your best, and always giving your personal best.

His philosophy was that instead of always focusing on the bottom line, focus on relationships and results will follow; strong relationships lead to strong results. Spend your time on relationships and this will pay off in the end. Pay attention to building character and integrity. Trust that the winning and the positive outcomes will happen.

Once again it comes down to relationships. Relationships are critically important in developing our career opportunities, relationships with customers are critically important to revenue, relationships are critically important to a team’s success.

Companies have treated employees as replaceable, expendable. The Wooden approach is that a leader’s followers, just as his basketball players, are “working with you, not for you”. Wooden says pay attention to each individual and help each differently depending on their needs at the time. “Listen to followers”, know what is happening with them. Build relationships.

John Wooden was a leader I immediately think of as an authentic leader. As a leader you have to be yourself. As a coach and a leader, you are a model, setting an example for your followers. Do the right thing, hold yourself to the highest standards, influence by your model.

He said never mention winning, you can loose even when you out score others. Success is not necessarily the final score. Continually make the effort to become the best you are capable of. I believe that as individuals it is our responsibility to reach our full potential, to develop and use our strengths and talents and gifts to become the best we can be, the best we are capable of. This is our responsibility.

Other Coach Wooden lessons include being considerate of others – hugely important – and never criticize a team mate. He always believed in education first and sports second. He taught the value of education, the value of always learning from others. These are valuable lessons from a true leader.

What an inspiring legend. Thank you Coach Wooden. For an in-person interview, listen to TEDTalks.com.

A final quote: “Make Your Day a Masterpiece.” John Wooden

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1 Comment

  1. jkawasaki says:


    I liked your article. It sounds strong and includes unexpected points about leadership which will catch a reader’s eye. Everyone knows John Wooden so that is another good draw to read the article.

    Great job!

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