With the recent passing of John Wooden, I am compelled to write a post in his honor. While he was one of the most successful players and coaches in college basketball history, he is equally as known for his greatness as a leader. My point here is not to highlight his basketball career, but rather to share some of his leadership philosophy that has influenced so many people including myself.
Years ago while in an airport bookstore, I purchased one of his books on leadership to pass the time. Later I had the opportunity to see him speak. I quickly found him to be one of the few people whose every idea seems so spot on when it comes to the subjects of leadership, teamwork and human relations.
The Pyramid of Success
When it comes to his leadership and teaching, John Wooden is likely most known for his “pyramid of success.” It was his illustrative list of traits and values he considered essential to acquire lasting success. While he began it early in his coaching career, he gradually adjusted and added to it over the years. It is succinct and profound at the same time. We could all do a lot worse than to use it as a roadmap for our personal development plan.
John Wooden’s Seven-Point Creed
He was fond of sharing a seven-point creed for living which his father taught him when he graduated from elementary school. In it you will find the traits of integrity, excellence, generosity, self-development, wisdom, gratitude and more.
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books including the Good Book.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings everyday.
The Four P’s
Wether in sports, business or any other endeavor, he considered the keys to successful execution to be what he called “the four P’s”. Planning, preparation, practice, and performance.
As a Leader, demand consistency
On the subject of consistency he had this to say: “I would not accept inconsistency-the pitfalls of repeated highs and lows. I wanted the individuals on our team to play the same way, game to game, that is, with the greatest intensity while executing at the highest performance level of which they were capable. Emotional ups and downs preclude this.”
Lastly, here’s just a handful of the notes I’ve made from his teachings.
- Before you can lead others, you must be able to lead yourself.
- There is no substitute for enthusiasm.
- The star of the team is the Team.
- Beware those who will do whatever it takes to win.
- Remember that a good demonstration tops a great description.
- Control emotion or emotion will control you.
- Sloppiness breeds sloppiness.
- Pride is easier to instill with the carrot (than punishment).
- Believe in the hidden potential of all.
- Long-term success requires short-term focus.
- Don’t make “woe is me” your fight song.
I could go on and on but in the spirit of brevity, if you are at all interested in learning more about his great leadership philosophy, I’ll leave you with two recommendations. First, get your hands on one of the many great books on or by him. Second, thoroughly check out his fantastic website.
Leadership expert John Maxwell teaches one of my favorite principles he calls “The Law of the Lid.” It suggests that the level of leadership you possess (for example on a scale of 1-10) determines much of your effectiveness and it especially determines the quality of those who follow you. I’ve found this to be true and something that affects us whether we’re in the role of leader or follower.
As a Leader
A leader cannot attract and develop people beyond his own level. His own level of leadership ability is his “lid,” both on his and his team’s results. If he is a 6 he will not likely acquire followers who are a 7 or 8. If he does manage to do so by luck, it will be very short-lived as eventually motivated followers will leave to find a leader who is at a level higher than themselves. It is for this reason the leader must recognize in order to improve their team and their results, they must first raise the lid on their own leadership ability.
The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.-John Maxwell
A good leader is always making conscious efforts to grow and develop their teams. They understand that when you develop followers to a higher level your results go to a higher level. That is why as leaders we must always be developing ourselves to the next level!
In a leadership role we need to ask ourselves the following:
- Am I raising my own lid?
- Am I raising the lid of my followers?
- Are my best followers at the same level as me? If yes, what action should I take?
As a follower
We all follow somebody. If we’re serious about our own personal growth, then we need to assess the leaders we follow. If your goal is to be what you would consider an 8 , then you need to be following a 9 or 10. You’ll never get there following a 6!
Sports are a great example of this phenomenon. A star college football player reaches a certain level before going to the pros. Inevitably when he makes it into the NFL he realizes it is now a whole new level of the game! He is now a small fish in a big pond. Possibly, over time he will develop into a star NFL player. But he would never get to that level of an athlete if he stayed playing on a college team.
If you wish to grow, some good questions to ask of your leader are:
- Are they at a higher level of leadership (or ability) than me?
- Are they willing to develop me?
- Do they make efforts to develop themselves?
If you find yourself in a development rut in your job, for example say you’re a 5 following a 5, I would suggest you do one of two things to ensure your future growth. The first option is to look outside for development opportunities. You can find leaders who will take you to the next level through books, mentors or teachers. Doing this will very likely take you towards the level you want to be and as a result will open doors and create opportunity for you in your current organization. If you’re convinced that’s not possible, then the second option is to seek out a different team or organization.
To learn more about the law of the lid and many of the great leadership principles, I recommend the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.