John Wooden (1910-2010) was UCLA's legendary basketball coach nicknamed 'Wizard of Westwood' who won 10 NCAA championships in a 12 year period. His approach to excellence and leadership is revolutionary as much as it is simple and easy to follow - simply because he knows what to teach and how. I had been meaning to buy this book for years and finally took the plunge and wondered - why did I wait so long for it? I remember threatening people to make them buy this book for me but never carried out my threat.
What Success Is - And How to Achieve It
At no point is Wooden known to have stressed on winning. His formula was simple - don't worry about being better than somebody else. Instead be the best you can become since you have control over that. Success then to him, was to be as good as you can get. So, focus and worry only about things you can control - and strive to reach your capabilities mentally and physically.
The idea is to compete only against yourself and do things necessary to bring forth your personal best. Hold your head high, give your best - it improves your probability of winning. Winning is a by-product. Effort - is the product, so focus on that.
Success then is in running the race. How you run your race depends on your planning, preparation, practice and performance (4 Ps). The focus then has to be on the journey, the process - and the result will happen more easily, more efficiently.
A player who gives his best is a success. Demonstrate 'giving your best' through your behavior on and off the court, the importance of the twin connectors
- Before you can lead others, you must lead yourself.
- Do the basics (the 4 Ps) - planning, preparation, practice and performance well
- Write down the Tasks, Initiatives and Actions that each member of the team needs to do to perform at their best.
Wooden's Pyramid of Success
Wooden's famous pyramid of success (which he displayed outside his office to communicate it to his team) looks like this:
Condition, Skill and Team Spirit
Self-control, Alertness, Initiative, Intentness
Industrialism, Friendship, Loyalty, Cooperation, Enthusiasm
The bottom most tier
1) Industry or hard work - not just about working hard mindlessly but mindful work
2) Enthusiasm - cultivate it because it helps you and others, its infectious
4) Loyalty - to get loyalty, care about people and they'll be loyal
5) Cooperation - to gain as a team which means one must welcome honest differences and thoughts which are key to grow
The second row is about the head
6) Self control - cultivate self-control in both personal and professional life, it helps you to be consistent, it will keep your emotions under control because otherwise emotions will affect performance (he would insist on not using bad language, on being dressed properly, being on time)
7) Alertness - be constantly observing, absorbing, learning from what's going on around you
8) Initiative - take risks, make mistakes with honest intent, "the team that makes the most mistakes usually wins", be quick but don't hurry. Failure to act is the highest failure. Hustle
9) Intentness - show your intent on doing your best
The third tier - the heart of the pyramid
10) Condition - physical fitness, keeping peak fitness by practicing moderation and balance, physically, mentally and morally
11) Skill - learning at all times, learn skill lifelong
12) Team spirit - "the star of the team is the team", you should be eager to sacrifice personal interest for the group
The fourth row
13) Poise - being true to yourself, don't be ruffled easily, stay true to yourself
14) Confidence - it come with complete preparedness, having done everything possible
15) Competitive greatness - a true competitor loves battle. its not about winning or losing, the leader has to be a great competitor, condition your team to love the struggle. Be more than the sum of all your players.
Wooden says that one must have faith and patience in oneself, in others, in their beliefs. When you've done your best you may call yourself a success, he says. And only you can define success for yourself! Don't allow others to define your success.
Wooden's Lessons in Leadership
Wooden believed (and i do too) that good values attract good people. He cites the story of how Kareem Abdul Jabbar. someone whose talent was so widely known that every college was vying for him, was attracted to UCLA because of the values they practiced - quality, no racism. Wooden never approached players however good they were - he let them come to him. When he chose them, he would seek those with a fire in their belly. Those who matched his values - of equality, scholastic merit. Wooden always told his players that they were at college to study first, basketball was second. He pushed them to work for the highest grades. He would stand by the values he learned from his father and insisted that everyone on his team practiced the same - to never cheat, never steal. to not whine, complain or make excuses. He would say that your values (behaviors) advertise your identity, what you stand for. There is a story of how Wooden stopped players from taking home the cheap cotton t shirt without asking. He felt it weakened character. He would insist on doing little things right - that way the big things are taken care of. And yes, Wooden always did what he expected the others to do. Even when he was 57, he would do everything the team did.
It's touch to coach character
Focus on little things
Character is more than honesty
Getting the Best out of People
Wooden says that the most powerful four letter word is love. You must love your team like family -like your children. "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." Wooden would invite players over to his house for thanksgiving when he knew some could not go home. He did what's best for others (which is love). There is one instance of tough love when he sent a player home (Bill Walton I think) for being dressed scruffily, which was not allowed. But Wooden bent his rules a bit when Bill wanted to turn vegetarian. Wooden says, understand what's good for the player, the team, and do it. Just don't get stuck in rules. Be firm but flexible. Show that you truly care for them and they will give your their best.
There's this instance when a player who had been to war and had this fear of flying. Coach Wooden said that everyone would take the bus and they did. He did not leave anyone behind. Or when they were invited to tournaments that did not allow blacks, Coach Wooden did not play, until they removed the rule.
- Lead with love
- Everyone is different
- Show you care
- There a time to be flexible, a time to be firm
Wooden calls everyone a teacher first - parent, coach, mentor. And you have not taught, if they have not learned. Just knowing the skill well does not make you a good teacher, you must learn how to teach! Knowledge is not enough, know how to teach.
To teach well, be present, diagnose, correct. Teaching is not telling, "show" how to do it patiently. The laws of learning are -
Don't cause indigestion by giving them too much information. Instead, give bite sized pieces, that they can easily digest. Finally he says, never be satisfied - its what you learn after you learn it all that counts.
There are legendary stories about what made him such a great teacher - he would show them he meant what he said - by showing the players how to wear socks (importance to detail), how he would listen to suggestions, how it was not about winning but about how to make it the best team it can be.
- Professional expertise is not ability to teach
- Ask more questions, have less answers
- A demo tops a description
Performance - Emotion is the Enemy
Wooden figured early that emotion interferes with performance. His formula was that one needs intensity combined with emotional discipline(don't confuse emotion with intensity). He would say that it is OK to be OUTSCORED but not OUTPLAYED. Outplayed being when you do not give your best - which is what happens when you let your emotions take over you.
Wooden's methods to practice control over emotions is do do things in moderation and not let go. Exercise control even when things are tough - no excessive exultation when they win, no emotion when things are going wrong. Focus on process. His players recall that even when the team was down in the dumps he would walk in all positive, always supportive. It was sticking to the process that mattered to him. Not the result or the score.
- Control emotion or it will control you
- Moderation is the key
Team Work - Needs 10 hands to Score a Basket
"The star of the team is the team" - what a beautiful line!
Wooden was clear that to achieve greatness one does not need great players, one need great teams! Great teams are those that work as a team, that work for the team's good. Sharing the ball is the basic of team work so he says one can share - knowledge, contacts, ideas etc. In fact when we realise that everyone - from the receptionist to the security guard is part of the team, we realise that it takes 10 hands to score a basket. Wooden says that the leader must explain to each team member precisely how his or her contribution is important.
One key here is that the leader must acknowledge the unacknowledged and praise them publicly. One must always praise the stars privately. They are acknowledged by all anyway! (But still need acknowledgement)
For the benefit of the team one must put the best possible team together and that must be acknowledged by everyone. Share credit.
- Star of the team is the team
- Share the ball
- Acknowledge the unacknowledged
Details - Little Things Make Big Things Happen
Wooden was a big one for details. They say that if you ask him what any player was doing in any practice session he would know. Wooden believed that little things added up, like one needs to add up pennies to be rich, or one needs to build houses brick by brick. His philosophy was that in a airplane if all the rivets were in place, the airplane was in good shape. All he had to do was check if all the rivets were in good shape and not falling off.
For instance he would constantly be searching for little ways to improve the team performance. He would make the team play against one another, the main players wearing the college jerseys and the subs wearing opponent jerseys! Or when he decided that orange rinds were a better way to energise players than chocolate because they also hydrated! In a way he was the originator of the 1% change every day as he went about improving things to make his team the best. His philosophy - make sure all the rivets are in place and to seek the right way always.
For this Wooden had a precise way of doing things. He would insist of precise processes (would allow for exceptions). He knew that to strive for excellence he could not be be lazy with details. He is known for his full control of practice sessions where not a minute was wasted for anyone. Armed with 3x3 cards which had clear instructions written for every person and every minute he would develop his team into the optimally balanced outfit. His search for balance was about balance in the body, the team and the mental aspect.
- Start with showing how to wear socks right (drove home the importance of process and details)
- Right rivets
- Facilitate an environment of perfected details (fingernails trimmed, hair short, jersey tucked in,doing things right)
Make Each Day your Masterpiece
Wooden realised early enough the difference between activity and achievement. To produce real results, resources must be organised and executed meticulously. Wooden says - "in a competitive environment, there is never enough time". So a good leader must be skillful in using time productively. Time, used correctly, is among your most potent weapons.
Potential exists in every minute so use that minute well. "Not haste, not hurry. But hustle." Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Wooden would "plan number of hours to accomplish his teaching goals." Get them to offer all they have, all the time.
With time being such an important resource, one must learn to be on time. Being late shows disrespect. Successful ones used their allotted time best. In fact the quality of your allocation and execution of time determines the level of your success. There is a direct connection between success and intelligent use of time
One must not mistake activity for achievement. Plan every meeting as if your life depended on it. Keep track of minutes. (3X5 cards, no distractions at practice). Time expands with proper organisation and execution.
It starts with a minute - your first minute matters. Set the proper tone with meticulous time and technique. Document for clarity and for record to analyse.
Motivation - Carrot or Stick
A good team is one whose members are filled with pride and not fear. Wooden says that well chosen carrots are always more powerful and long lasting. Show that you are on the same side.
The best carrot Wooden feels is approval from someone you truly respect. Such approval instills pride. Pride will push someone who is good to get better.
Firing someone suggests failure on part of the leader
Wooden says - have lots of suggestions , few rules. Favour firm suggestions to strict rules. He had a rule that only leader gives criticism
- Pride is easy to instill with the carrot
- Genuine praise
- No internal carping
- No rigid procedures
There's a handwritten note on how to avoid grievances:
1. Get all the facts - what went wrong, not who is to blame
2. Stay calm and find the solution together. Do not permit emotions to take over. Use reason.
3. Criticise in private
4. Commend before and perhaps, after you criticise. Help save face.
5. Keep your criticism constructive. It should help correct, improve. prevent - not to punish.
6. Treat everyone with respect and dignity
Grow Every One to Their Highest Potential - Make Greatness Achievable by All
As a leader you must realise that each member of your team has a potential for personal greatness. Help them achieve it. Your job is to help him or her to perform their job to the highest of their abilities. Here Wooden says that to motivate people we frequently give out awards - but these Rewards and Recognition activities must be thought out. What are you rewarding and recognising. Wooden says one should reward good mental attitude, unselfish team players and those who show improvement - not just the achievers in terms of popularity.
Wooden says the leader must recognise and appreciate greatness in/is a supporting role. Must recognise the size of effort. Must encourage ambition. He also recognised scholastic merit, competitive spriit. Also, the team would vote for the Most Valuable Player in terms of contribution.
All promotions depend on mastery of current role and assignments. A good leader needs to get unseen potential of an individual out. For this the leader must know the people well, their strengths, limitations, and grow them.
- Assess each job correctly
- Encourage ambition
- Be prepared for unexpected opportunities
- Push for unleashing hidden potential
- Get the best and tap into concealed resources
Pushing for Greatness - Seek Significant Change
The leader must seek significant change in behavior, in culture. The leader must look at himself and see where he is making excuses for not achieving greatness. Wooden himself believed that his team was compromised by the quality of the men's gym at the UCLA until his team went to the finals - he realised he had made excuses in his own head. As yourself - are you holding your team back with your limitations?
A leader must ceaselessly search for excellence. As a strategy he also realised that to achieve greatness the team needed to make play the best players so he decided to play the best team. Don't complicate such stuff and keep it simple.
Greatness or excellence cannot come as a single person's effort so involve the team. Look for "yes men" who align with your thought processes but who will say no when they are convinced otherwise and can change your mind. The classic case is how his assistant coach convinced him about the importance of using the full press as a strategy and it worked.
So listen to all viewpoints. Always question and always probe. Get more thoughts to the table and adopt best practices.
- Stop saying No, start asking How
Pursue Excellence - Don't Look at the Scoreboard
Wooden never believed in looking at the scoreboard. The pursuit of excellence only asks - have I tried to get better - not in what the scoreboard says and that's the only thing that matters. Focus on doing things well. Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out. His mantra was - let competition adjust to us. We will focus on doing our job to the best of our ability in practice and in games. Forget about everything except concentrating on hard work and intelligent planing. Focus on improving a little each day.
Work backwards from long term goal to each practice session. Wooden says that encores for great performances start with a good day at rehearsals - so focus on good rehearsals. Success is possible only when everybody is paying attention to their jobs and doing their jobs well.
To begin with, as a leader, your first goal is to help the team right now - in practice.
- Nothing futuristic, stay present
- Repeat each activity
- To success you need to focus
- Give your best
Adversity is your asset
As a leader do not complain when things don't go your way. Your job is to play the hand you are dealt with. As a leader it is also important to keep your word 100%. You are your word. Keep it. It builds trust.
When you are facing uncertainty or new conditions, look at how it can help you develop additional aspects. Look to improve to face that adversity. (How Kareem Abdul Jabbar became a more all round player when the dunk was banned). Prepare to the utmost of your ability and teach your teams to do the same. Its all about preparation, how well you can foresee obstacles and tackle them in advance.
Wooden says, be a realistic optimist. Assume adversity and plan for all contingencies. That said drawing up plans is the easy part he says. But be meticulous about planning.
Wooden would get everyone on the same page in the first meeting itself - what was expected of them, what to expect from him, his philosophy of success and how to achieve it.
ABCs of success to him were
- Execution of fundamentals
- integrate individuals into one unit
Secondary Traits of a Leader
A leader, to bring out the best in his people, should know how to. Wooden used the whole part system - he would work individually on each area and then put it back together again so it ran better as a whole.
- Work on individual areas
- Define roles clearly
- Give written instructions
- Teaching them how to take feedback
- Making team mates constantly talk to one another
1. Be a teacher. Follow the laws of learning - explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, until habit is formed.
2. Use lectures, photos, etc to supplement your daily practice
3. Insist on punctuality and proper dress for practice
4. Insist on strict attention
5. No horse play. Practice is preparation.
6. Be patient.
7. Give new things early in practice period and repeat until learned.
8. Avoid harsh, public criticism. Use praise as well as censure.
9. Encourage team work and unselfishness
10. Individually coach individuals
11. Use small carefully organised groups
12. Have definite practice plans and follow them
1. Its about habits
2. Never be satisfied
3. Don't give them too much, but teach well
4. Don't tie them down too much that they lose their initiative
5. Give equal opportunity to all
6. Don't overlook little details. You must prepare to win to be a winner.
7. Convince the players the importance of condition - mental, moral and physical.
8. Confidence comes from being prepared and properly conditioned
9. Nothing is as important as proper execution of fundamentals
10. Development of team spirit is a must. Eliminate selfishness, envy and egotism
11. Be industrious and enthusiastic
12. Teach respect for all and fear for one
13. Use positive approach and develop pride in your own game
14. Have one team, not regulars and substitutes
15. Give public credit to your playmakers and defensive men at every opportunity
Wooden was obsessive with record keeping, making lists, listing out rules of behavior and personal qualities to develop
(what gets us to our goals)
Wooden would insist on developing the subs, the replacements, making all his players into better people. For instance he would teach them how to play without the ball - so their focus would be on the action and not showmanship!
Fantastic stuff for me. Immense wisdom. One of the best books I have read on leadership, pursuit of excellence purely from a how-to-do-it perspective. Do the small things right, get everyone together, get the right values and work as hard as you can to improve.