Lessons from the Best: Wooden on Leadership

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On June 18, 2012

When people think of John Wooden, they generally think of one of the greatest coaches of all time. That’s not surprising given Wooden’s list of achievements. He earned 10 national championships (a record); He won seven championships in a row (a record); He had 88 consecutive victories (a record); He had 38 straight tournament playoff wins (a record); He had four perfect seasons (also a record). And in his 41 years of coaching basketball, he only had one losing season—his first year.

Despite his success on the court, some (including Wooden himself) would say that John Wooden was first and foremost a teacher and a leader. What may surprise some people were the goals that Wooden set. As he himself said:

In all my years of coaching I rarely, if ever, even uttered the word win, talked about “beating” an opponent, or exhorted a team to be number one, including those picked by experts to win national championships. Instead, my words and actions always reflected Joshua Hugh Wooden’s early advice,  “Never cease trying to be the best you can become.”

Through 41 years of coaching, John Wooden’s goal never changed. It was always to get maximum effort and peak performance from each of his players in the manner that best served the team.

Wooden on Leadership outlines—step-by-step—how he pursued and accomplished this goal. His “12 Lessons in Leadership” and his “Pyramid of Success” lay out the mental, emotional, and physical qualities essential for building a winning organization.

Here’s a taste of what awaits you when you delve into the wisdom of Wooden:

I believe leadership is largely learned… most of us have a potential far beyond what we think possible.

Others may have far more ability than you have, they may be larger, faster, quicker, able to jump better, etc., but no one should be your superior in team spirit, loyalty, enthusiasm, cooperation, determination, industriousness, fight, and character. Acquire and keep these traits and success should follow.

I was conscientious about making those with less significant roles feel valued and appreciated. I singled out individuals who seldom saw the limelight—the player who made an assist on an important basket, a pivotal defensive play, or a free throw at a crucial moment in the game. I also was careful to give recognition to those who did not get much playing time—the players who worked hard in practice to improve not only themselves but also their teammates who were receiving more game time…

As a coach and leader I tired hard to avoid letting those things I couldn’t control affect the things I could control. In more than nine decades I have yet to control fate. Neither have you, I’m sure.

Reading and applying the principles in Wooden’s book may not land you in the Hall of Fame. But it can go a long way to helping you become a great leader and stay on top of your game.