Honoring the legend
I could not let the summer end without acknowledging the passing of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden at the age of 99. I never had the honor of meeting Coach Wooden but I have been a fan and follower of his for decades. Sports have always been an important part of my life: I attended a girls' sports camp in Maine for seven summers as a child and lettered in three sports in high school. I never met a ball, racket, or club I haven't enjoyed playing with. Now in my 40s, I am the first woman to Chair the Board of Trustees at the Sports Museum at the Boston Garden. We help raise awareness and resources to fund character education programs for at risk youth in the region. Many of the lessons we teach the kids in our signature program, called Stand Strong, come from what I learned by participating in sports and most are the same lessons that Coach Wooden shared with his teams over the years. Paraphrasing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's tribute during the NBA Finals a few weeks ago, Coach Wooden didn't just make better athletes; he made us all better people.
Coach Wooden certainly transformed the lives of his players but for all of us who were even touched by him we are all much stronger, wiser and better leaders too. If the folks on Wall Street or at BP are looking for a little inspiration or direction these days, I suggest they channel the late, great Coach Wooden and follow his lead. The world will certainly be a better place if the legacy of John Wooden lives forever.
Much has been written over the years about Coach Wooden's success pyramid and his strong values of faith, family & friends but here are some of my all time favorite "John Woodenisms" that have really stuck with me over the years, making me a better student, manager, entrepreneur and leader:
• Little things make big things happen
Coach Wooden taught us that small details are critical. He instilled a solid foundation of character that created success for his players both on the court and in life. Whether you are Tony Hsiesh from Zappos, Richard Branson from Virgin, Steve Jobs at Apple or the founder & CEO of a small business like me, we can all point to the many small things that we do every day that delight our customers and turn them into evangelists.
• Never mistake activity for achievement
Leaders do not just stay busy, they make important things happen everyday, advancing the agenda forward with everything they do. As an entrepreneur I could fill my dance card every day with plenty of tasks that suck the energy right out of me but what makes my business grow and succeed is that like Coach Wooden, I have a clear vision of where I want to go and the kinds of decisions I need to make to get us there faster.
• Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do
Leaders do not make excuses they just get stuff done. Coach Wooden was all about personal excellence on and off the court. Sometimes I think my firm has been successful through the recession because I just kept focusing on what we could do that our clients still value and would pay for and stopped obsessing about the things they no longer had a budget for. As I heard on my listening tour over the past year with clients and prospects, businesses that are waiting for things to "get back to normal" need to let go of the past and move on, this is the "new normal" and they do not have a budget for the old stuff anymore!
• It's what you learn, after you know it all, that counts
Coach Wooden was able to break down the big topics into manageable chunks. He never gave his players big playbooks to memorize, instead he preferred small handouts by subject breaking everything down into bite size pieces easy to digest. My teams over the years have benefited greatly from Coach Wooden's clarity, vision and wisdom. The best leaders I know always leave you with one or two big ideas because that is all you can remember anyway!
• Always be a common person who is true to your beliefs
Before social media became popular, Coach Wooden talked a lot about the importance of honesty, integrity and authenticity. He did the right things for the right reasons and always instilled in his players to be prepared. He said he did not need 10 championships for validation, he was already a success simply because of his effort to produce the very best team possible. He never compared himself to others, he believed adversity made us stronger and better and that hard work leads to extraordinary success. Thinking about organizations today, how many leaders can honestly say their teams are well prepared and no matter what the quarterly earnings report says they are on the right path?
Nobel Prizes and MacArthur Genius Grants are impressive but how about creating the John Wooden Leadership Award for Excellence? Let his legacy continue to inspire the next generation!
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