For many of you, the name of Coach John Wooden will sound familiar. For others, like me, it was a very recent discovery I made thanks to my friend Isaac Getz. Wooden UCLA basketball team coach has one of the most remarkable trackrecord of the history of sport. Yes, of sport. Not just basketball. Just have a look : 10 March Madness national championship in 12 years, 7 national championships in a row, an 88-game winning streak, a 38-game winning streak in national championship tounament play. But such an unequaled (palmares) is not the fruit of chance. It has been built day after day by an industrious and learning mind connected with the heart.
When most leaders would define leadership as the capacity to bring a team – or a company, or a city – to victory, Coach Wooden has found something greater than winning. And he calls it success. Now, many of us may think that success is just another name for winning. Not for Wooden. Everything starts with his novel definition of success :
Success is peace of mind which is a direct result
of self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort
to become the best you are capable of becoming.
Three observations :
- Though he was evolving in a highly competitive environement, Wooden does not mention others in his definition. This means that the measurment standard for performance is not an external but an inner one. Peace of mind and self satisfaction both come from inside. Effort is not a ranking. And the best you are capable of becoming does not necessarily mean becoming #1.
- Wooden’s definition is open : making the effort is a process, and a never-ending one. When external competition is no more the final judge of what your are, then what is left is the ongoing process of improvement. There is no surprise in seeing Wooden put “Industriousness” as one cornerstone of his Leadership pyramid. People who worked with him recall that his training sessions were extremely well prepared and with high intensity.
- If you shorten the definition to the extreme, you can possibly say that “Success is peace of mind”. This is what Wooden has taught again and again to young athletes – full of desires to win, to make a great career, to have their names in the Hall of fame, to earn a lot of money, etc… Was “peace of mind” something appealing to them ? Well, in the context of long and tough competitions like US University basketball championships, peace of mind is a key condition to win. “Winning becomes a by-product of how well prepared you are mentally, physically” says Mike Warren a former player of UCLA Varsity, quoting what Wooden would say to his team. I would say that this is a key mental preparation for winning : being able to be sufficiently detached from the end result so that you focus not on the result itself but on giving your best. Peacefully.
Discovering Wooden’s life and philosophy (mainly through the book The Essential Wooden) has opened my eyes on my limits as a team coach. It helped me particularly in pointing out the big mistake I have made when I coached a team of young entrepreneurs at Team Academy, here in France. I was so much focussed on the results that the team should have produced, that I disregarded the effort that the teamsters were doing to become the best that they could be. When results were not there, even if they made the effort, they could see disappointment in my eyes. instead of building confidence in their capacity to give their best, this has created many times discouragement and drop of self-confidence, instead of enthusiasm and willingness to improve.
Becoming a better team coach is a lifetime effort. Reading about Wooden’s style and principles has empowered me. I strongly recommend you to study his work… and try to practice it !