John Wooden was a leader who influenced others through his teachings, emphasizing not only winning, but also the principles of integrity and character. Wooden was a basketball player, but most well known as a coach, winning an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships and one of the greatest winning records of all time. He coached players who became some of the greatest basketball players of our time, including Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton.
Wooden achieved his impressive winning record in large part due to his style of teaching. He was a great role model and inspirational leader that truly engrained principles in his players that lasted a lifetime. He preferred to emphasize practice and hard work rather than exploit natural talent. He believed in doing what you are driven to do regardless of financial gain or notoriety. He believed that everything else, including accolades naturally follows.
One of my favorite stories about Wooden’s coaching methods relates to a recruiting preseason situation where a player had immense natural ability, but UCLA denied the player a scholarship on the recommendation of Wooden who identified a character flaw in the player during the recruiting process. This demonstrated how Wooden held strong to his principles and how he looked into other aspects of a player beyond playing ability. I think Wooden was so successful because he looked at the sum total of the players as a single force as opposed to a combined number of forces.
He believed you could improve anyone through teaching, but there had to be an innate foundation of good character to be able to build on, which became a formula in making his teams. Growing up, I went to UCLA basketball games, and although I never saw Wooden coach, I learned his story early on. I have tried to emulate many of his qualities in running my own business, in my personal life, and especially in choosing members for teams.
Even knowing Wooden’s story, I have made several mistakes that he learned to avoid. I have learned from my own mistakes, but in making them, I now better relate to the difficulties Wooden faced and recognize how remarkable his efforts were in overcoming the many obstacles he encountered during his lifetime. I revisit his story to remind myself of the importance of considering the many dimensions of people in both professional and personal relationships.
Above all, I have taken his mantra of sacrificing all before character to heart. Here are three quotes by Wooden that have resonated with me over the years. “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. ” “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there. ” “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching. ”