John Wooden

I recently read an article in Success Magazine on John Wooden, who is probably the most successful collegiate athletic coach of all time. For those who may not know the name, Coach Wooden led the UCLA basketball team to a still-standing record of 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships. The article had a sidebar with 20-plus “Wooden-isms” and I thought I’d pass a few of them along to you. They are as applicable to business management as to athletic teams.

  1. “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
    This reminds me of Abraham Lincoln, who chose for his Cabinet individuals who had opposed him during his election. We all must have people who can challenge our thinking and not be afraid to do so, even if we are the leader or their boss.
  2. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
    No one ever learns without trying something new. Appropriate or calculated risk-taking is positive. Experience isn’t the best teacher, evaluated experience is the best teacher.
  3. “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
    Activity is better than laziness for sure; however, unless your activity is tied directly to the goals you have set, you may be spending time on low value or needless activity. All activity does lead to results. The question is, are they the results you desire?
  4. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
    Years ago when I was studying quality improvement, I remember one of the principles of the Phillip Crosby Quality College: “We never have time to do it right the first time, yet we always find the time to fix it.” My dad used to say, “If you are going to do something, you might as well do it right.” (He didn’t particularly like it when I would respond with some wise crack as, “If I know I’m not going to do this chore you just assigned me the right way, does that mean I don’t have to do it?”) What we do reflects on our reputation and ability to influence as leaders.
  5. “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
    Character is so important. Absence of it in many senior leaders has earned them public disgrace. Think of Dennis Kozlowski, the ex-CEO of Tyco, or any number of politicians. Without the highest levels of character, you won’t stay on top of the leadership game very long, nor will you be elevated to higher levels.
  6. “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”
    This is the premise of taking personal accountability for your actions. Blaming other people, blaming circumstances, waiting for others to inform you of what you need to know and related behaviors are the same as making excuses. Personal accountability means you admit and own your actions, good, bad, or indifferent. In addition, if you as the leader demonstrate that it is okay to make excuses, what do you think your team will do?

I hope some of these gems of wisdom have inspired you as they have inspired me. For those interested in the article, you can read it in the December 2016 issue of Success Magazine. It’s not available online yet, so I’m not able to provide a link.

For those interested in reading more about Coach Wooden, I highly recommend Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison, published by McGraw-Hill in 2005. In the book, Wooden describes, among other things, his Success Pyramid—this alone is well worth the price of the book.

Best Regards,

PS. If any of these gems of wisdom have hit a chord with you as one you need to work on, let me know. I may be able to help you think through what you can do to change.