Leadership is an essential element of any successful change effort.
I’ve written elsewhere about the powerful approach to develop leadership in organizations through coaching.
So that led me to wonder what can we learn from coaching about how to develop better leaders?
I recently read an article on John Wooden in The Los Angeles Times. Within the same few days I saw a video of his leadership philosophy from the TED conference. Then I remembered a book I’d read with my son about the Coach’s implementation of his life lessons called My Personal Best.
John Wooden, who passed away at 99 years old, led the UCLA Bruin basketball teams during an unprecedented run of 10 national college basketball championships in 12 years – nine of them in a row. No school has won more than two in a row ever since.
Wooden not only coached the game but played it too. And well. He is one of only three people to be inducted into the College Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
No one would argue with the results of “The Wooden Way.”
But I’d bet you’ll be surprised to find out that Coach Wooden never once talked to his team about winning even though he won as many national titles as the next three coaches on the all-time winning list combined.
Wooden’s leadership is unique and one that would be controversial in today’s business world. He talks about patience and believing that things will work out the way they should if we do our part. He credits (and quotes) his father for shaping his philosophy of life:
Never try to be better than someone else. Always learn from others. Never cease to be the best you can be.
Coach Wooden never cared about sustainable competitive advantage. Never did benchmarking. He was never worried about his team’s ranking in the polls. Instead of focusing on winning, Coach created his own definition of success. It’s one that he and his boys as he called them, had complete control over regardless of what the other team did. Here is how he described it:
Success is the peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.
The score of the game – whether his teams ended up with more or less points than their opponent – was only a by-product. The real game was played by each player within himself. Did he play up to his full potential? Did the team play up to its full potential? Those were the only questions Coach Wooden was interested in talking about after a game.
This would all sound like a bunch of “New Age” psychobabble if it weren’t coming from a 98-year-old man who won all those championships. It’d be easy to explain away if he had not been so successful – by his definition or any other one you’d like to use.
How far are you and your organization from using Coach Wooden’s definition of success? Having the self-satisfaction of knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.
How different would it be for people in your business to walk into the workplace knowing that they had total control over whether they succeeded or failed every day? What if you focused your entire organization on doing its best instead of how you stack up against the competition? How much time, money and energy would that free up to actually do your best?