12 Lessons in Leadership from The Wizard

We lost one of the real giants in the world of leadership last week when John Wooden passed away at 99 years old. I remember staying up to watch the UCLA vs. Houston game in 1968. It was billed as the “Game of the Century”. It was the first college basketball game I ever saw, televised by the Hughes Sports Network. It was also the first nationally televised college basketball game in prime time, and there were doubts that America would tune in for an amateur product. Although UCLA lost (they wouldn’t lose again for 89 games), my life changed that evening. When I learned that these players on television received full college scholarships to play basketball — well, it just blew my mind and provided me with my first true goal. I was going to be one of those guys someday.

I loved Lew Alcindor. He hailed from my native NY city-area Catholic school league and he was inordinately tall (I was a 6’3″, 6th grader at the time). I even copied his hook shot. Alcindor was my first basketball idol. He was articulate and opinionated but respectful of the game and his coaches. His 1969 autobiographical Sports Illustrated article, “My Story” provided me with my first glimpse into Coach John Wooden. From then on, I read and watched everything I could about the man who was the reason I chose coaching as my first career out of college.

Alcindor spoke with such praise of Wooden — how he helped him become a man. I find it humorous that everything in today’s street culture hinges on the fulcrum of proving one’s “manhood” — and here was this Brobdingnagian black man admitting that a hayseed whitey from Indiana taught him what becoming a man was really all about.

Much has been written of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. It would serve your agency well if you hung it up somewhere for your colleagues and employees to see. For a printable version, go to coachwooden.com. But I am most inspired by Wooden’s 12 Lessons in Leadership:

1. Good values attract good people.

2. Love is the most powerful four-letter word.

3. Call yourself a teacher.

4. Emotion is your enemy.

5, It takes 10 hands to make a basket.

6. Little things make big things happen.

7. Make each day your masterpiece.

8. The carrot is mightier than the stick.

9. Make greatness attainable by all.

10. Seek significant change.

11. Don’t look at the scoreboard.

12. Adversity is your asset.

I’ll just close with some of my favorite Woodenisms. Rest in peace, Wizard — I don’t think even Jesus would want to coach against you.

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

“What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”

“Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

“I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”

“Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”

“It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

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