Character and leadership go hand-in-hand in sports and the business world. Effective leaders cultivate qualities like poise, confidence, humility and values, as well as traits like being a teacher rather than a boss, learning from mistakes and knowing how to help others play their strengths to achieve top performance. The Pyramid of Success is a tool that anyone can use to become the best version of self through discipline, hard work and teamwork. Anyone can become an effective leader.
There are really not a lot of books on leadership written by people as successful as John Wooden that reflect humility. One of the first things you may notice is that this book is different. It begins with the humble premise that most people have unfulfilled potential, and what is really important is just trying to be the best you can become.
It does not necessarily mean you have to become a leader, and you certainly should not worry about being better than someone else. You cannot control others, so control yourself, and “run the race” the right way with the right planning, preparation, practice and performance. John Wooden believes great competitors find the ultimate reward in the competitive process itself and not in grandiose trophies and awards or even fame. In other words, self-satisfaction comes from knowing you made the best effort possible. Another book about unlocking potential and becoming your best is Winners: And How They Succeed.
John Wooden developed a pyramid structure to use as a teaching tool which contains 15 blocks representing 15 fundamental values. In “Part 1: The Foundation for Leadership,” he reviews the Pyramid of Success, a tool he used early in his teaching career at Indiana State Teachers College and was carried to UCLA where he became the head basketball coach of the Bruins. One of the most important lessons he offered his team members and then his readers is this: values should hold constant in personal and work lives. The purpose of the Pyramid is not to produce championships because winning is a by-product of following the right direction for reaching excellence. Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful coach in British soccer history, has also written a book to this effect called Leading: Learning From Life and My Years at Manchester United.
Wooden’s unique perspective towards competition helped the players understand that there are no guarantees of winning, but they could be guaranteed the opponents would be fierce competitors. Be prepared to meet them and the score would take care of itself. It is why Wooden believed that industriousness and enthusiasm are the driving force of the other value blocks in the Pyramid. They are the cornerstones creating the strong foundation, along with friendship, loyalty and cooperation. The book offers examples of the most effective leaders who have these qualities, like Jack Welch, once CEO of General Electric. For more on how staying focused and determined on the most important thing can change your trajectory for success read the books GRIT and The ONE Thing.
In “Part 2: Lessons in Leadership,” the book weaves its way through leadership qualities based on the Pyramid building blocks. The uniqueness of the book is that it thoughtfully considers some qualities that are often not discussed. For example, Wooden explores the role of friendship, alertness, faith and patience within the context of leadership. Another amazing book on leadership would be High Output Management.
After putting each of the Pyramid principles in context of leadership to establish the foundation for his leadership style, the author spends the next section discussing lessons in leadership. As would be expected, he takes the lessons from his coaching experiences, so there are plenty of sports references. Sports fans would also enjoy Quiet Leadership by Carlo Ancelotti is one of the leading managers in the world of soccer.
In this section, Wooden advises leaders to do things like hire people who have the right values and a fire-in-the-belly enthusiasm, make greatness an attainable goal for all team members and do not look at the scoreboard. People should just give their best effort, because while looking at the scoreboard, an opponent will be stealing the ball. This is a lesson that is reaffirmed in the book Small Giants.
Wooden’s take on winning is another interesting aspect of the book. For example, he believes that focusing on winning means you are not focusing on your job. Wooden believes that success is an accumulation of little things done at a very high standard of performance. He points out that there is never enough time in a competitive environment, so a leader must be a master in using time productively and helping others do the same. This is something that the book The Checklist Manifesto is all about.
He also emphasizes the importance of learning and practicing the basics or fundamentals, using time to its best advantage through careful organizing and ensuring each team member gets specific direction on what he or she must do to perform at peak level.
Wooden’s formula for success is 10 = C (conditioning) + F (fundamentals) + U (unity) with 10 being the number of basketball national championships the UCLA men’s team won.
You can anticipate some of the advice, like effective leaders are first good teachers and staying intent on helping others do their best leads to success. A team must be unified because one person undermining the team can hurt the entire team. This team mentality and how to build it can be found much more in the book Team of Teams.
“The star of the team is the team, and it takes ten hands to score a basket,” Wooden wrote.
An interesting aspect of the book is that Wooden does not simply explain good leadership. He offers many examples of how he developed the principles by making mistakes along the way. Something that is common among leadership books and one worth reading in particular about overcoming mistakes is Antifragile.
Part 3 is “Lessons From My Notebook” which contains the major lessons Wooden learned and used throughout his career. In this section, you will find a number of advice items that are succinctly stated. This is a list you can read every day for inspiration.
The advice in this book will always be timely, but especially today when leaders need soft skills as much as they need hard skills to meet the expectations of a workforce increasingly made up of younger workers with different expectations. The days of command-and-control leadership are gone. This statement couldn’t be supported than in the books DRIVE or What's Gone Wrong With Developing Leaders.
John Robert Wooden was known by many as the greatest NCAA basketball head coach of all time, but throughout his career he was simply “coach.” Born in 1910 in Martinsville, Indiana, Wooden was raised on a farm in Centerton where he developed two qualities that defined him the rest of his life: a strong work ethic and a love of basketball from playing with his three brothers. In high school, he met his future wife Nellie Riley and joined the Martinsville High School basketball team where he became a star player. The team became the 1927 Indiana State champions. While attending Purdue University, Wooden earned three All-America selections as a basketball guard, won the College Basketball Player of the Year Award and saw the team voted as the 1932 national champions. He was later inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1961.
Wooden graduated with a degree in English, married Nellie Riley and became an English teacher and athletic teams’ coach at Dayton High School in Kentucky. In 1934, Wooden moved back to Indiana to teach English and coach tennis, baseball and basketball teams at South Bend Central High School. It is during this stint that he first developed the principles discussed in his book Pyramid of Success which is a teaching model for helping students and athletic teams reach their potential.
Wooden served as a Navy Lieutenant during World War II, and then served as an athletic director and baseball and basketball coach at Indiana State Teachers College in 1946. The basketball teams won two straight Indiana Collegiate Conference titles. In 1948, Wooden began a long career as the basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His efforts to instill discipline in the Bruin players paid off as they won three Pacific Coast Conference titles within the first eight seasons. He led the UCLA basketball team to a perfect 30-0 record in 1963-1964. The team became National Champions that year, while Wooden was named Coach of the year. The next year, the team became National Champions once again.
Two National Championships was just the beginning of a remarkable winning streak over the next seven years. Starting in 1966-1967, the team won seven straight championships and had three undefeated seasons. The UCLA team won 88 straight games from 1971-1974. Wooden was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for a second time in 1973, but this time as a coach. Wooden ended a 29-year college team coaching stint with a 664-162 record and 10 national championships.
Wooden was awarded the Reagan Distinguished American Award in 1995 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. He passed away at the age of 99 in May 2010. Through his many books, his principles of leadership and team success continue to inspire coaches, athletic team members, business leaders and people looking for inspiration as they pursue goals.
Coach Wooden was a prolific author who has 30+ publications. He wrote and published many of them after he was 90 years old.
Wooden collaborated with different authors on various books. Steve Jamison was a co-author on several books and has earned fame as an authority on the life and leadership principles of UCLA Coach Wooden. He collaborated on Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization (2007), the book just reviewed. The collaboration between Wooden and Jemison extended over eight additional publications. Coach Wooden and Jamison even wrote children’s book together that focus on teamwork.
People continue to write their memories of the coach and teacher online and express their appreciation for the life lessons he proffers. It is proof that Coach Wooden continues to teach his leadership lessons to new generations of leaders.