Coach Wooden Shares His Insights on Leadership
Posted by Dean Holden at July 7th, 2012
Here are some snippets from Coach Wooden’s excellent book called Wooden on Leadership.
LEADERS MUST CONTINUOUSLY LEARN
I believe leadership itself is largely learned. Certainly not everyone can lead nor is every leader destined for glory, but most of us have a potential far beyond what we think possible.
Those who aspire to be leaders can do it; those who wish to become much better leaders can also do it. I know, because this has been true in my own life. Whatever coaching and leadership skills I possess were learned through listening, observation, study, and then trial and error along the way.
In my opinion, this is how most leaders improve and progress. For me, the process of learning leadership continued for 40 years until the day I walked off the court for the last time as head coach – March 31, 1975 – following UCLA’s tenth national championship. In truth, my learning continued even after that. (Pages 4-5)
PARENTING IS THE BEST MODEL OF LEADERSHIP
At some point, later than I’d care to admit, it became clear to me that the most productive model for good leadership is a good parent. A coach, teacher, and leader, in my view, are all basic variations of being a parent. And while parenting is the most important job in the world, leadership isn’t far behind. I revere the opportunity and obligation it confers, namely, the power to change lives and makes a difference. For me, leadership is a sacred trust.
A leader in sports, business, or any other field of endeavor should possess and provide the same qualities inherent in a good parent: character, consistency, dependability, accountability, knowledge, good judgment, selflessness, respect, courage, discipline, fairness, and structure.
And while all these will make you a good leader, they will not make you a great leader. For that one additional quality – perhaps the most important of all – is necessary. Although it may sound of the place in the rough-and-tumble context of sports or corporate competition, I believe you must have love in your hear for the people under your leadership. I did. (80)
LEADERS DEMAND ATTENTION TO DETAILS
There was no single big thing that made our UCLA basketball teams effective, not the press or the fast break, not size, not condition – no single big thing. Instead, it was hundreds of small things done the right way, and done consistently.
A leader must identify each of the many details that are most pivotal to team success and then establish, and teach, a high standard of behavior or performance in executing those details. How you – the leader – define “average” is how your team will define it. Some leaders define average as average; some define average as being significantly above average.
It is easy to be lazy when it comes to details. Laziness is a euphemism for sloppiness, and sloppiness precludes any organization from achieving competitive greatness and success. Your ability as leader to set and achieve high standards in the domain or details – to insist that average will be well above average – is one of the accurate predictors of how effective you will be as a leader, and how productive those under your supervision will be as a team.
Once you recognize the connection between sweat socks and success, you have acquired one of the most valuable assets for effective leadership, namely, that little things, done well, make big things happen for you and your organization. (147)
LEADERSHIP IS GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR AVAILABLE TALENT
You need talent on your team to prevail in the competitive arena. However, many leaders don’t know how to win even when they have great talent in their organization. Furthermore, leaders are frequently forced to compete when the talent matchup isn’t in their favor. What do you do then?
While a book can’t replace talent, it can provide productive insights on how to get the most out of the talent you have available. And this, in my opinion, is the first goal of leadership – namely, getting the very best out of the people in your organization, whether they have talent to spare or are spare on talent.
Your ability to bring forth – maximize – the potential and abilities of those under your leadership marks you as a great competitor and leader. Some years, the teams I taught were blessed with significant talent. Other years, this was not the case. But in all years – with all levels of talent – my goal was the same, namely, to get the most out of what we had. (289-290)
1. “Trust is the foundation of leadership.”
Coach William’s first goal when he made the transition from Kansas to Carolina was to establish a sense of trust with the UNC players. “You’ve got to get your players to believe in you.” Coach Williams immediately scheduled individual meetings with each of the players to begin the trust-building process. Because first impressions are so important, especially when taking over a different program, Coach Williams wanted to start off on the right foot with each of the players.
2. “We’ll have a chance to win it all next year…”
Coach Williams told the UNC players that if they did exactly what he and his staff asked them to do, they would make the NCAA tournament in the first year and have a chance to win it all in the second year. This inspiring vision gave the players an exciting goal to shoot for as well as a realistic timeline to accomplish it. It set the program’s expectations from the onset and gave them a motivating reason for the daily work they would need to do.
3. “Coaching is about adjustments. Your game plan is only good for the first six minutes — the rest is all about adjustments.”
According to Coach Williams, coaching (and playing for that matter) is all about adjustments. You can and should formulate a game plan going in, but much of your team’s success depends on your ability to make efficient and effective adjustments. As a coach you must be able make the strategically adjustments, but just as important, you must help your team make the mental adjustments that need to be made to manage the momentum of competition.
4. “You can push them but you can’t go personal.”
Many thought former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty was excused because the Tar Heel players thought he was too tough on them. Interestingly, most Carolina insiders note that Coach Williams is much more demanding of his players than was Coach Doherty. The primary difference lies in how Coach Williams is tough on them. Coach Williams insists that you can and must push your players — but you can’t make it personal. Much like effective parenting, coaches should criticize the behavior, not the person.
5. “Regardless of how hard you work, I will be working harder.”
It all starts at the top. Coach Williams talked about how his passion, commitment, and work ethic must set the tone for everyone in the program. He has to continually demonstrate in his actions the standard necessary to achieve success. The players see how much he invests in them and the program and are naturally inspired to give a high level of commitment back to him.
6. “I’ll take a person who is a little short on ability and academics, but I will not take anyone who is short on character.”
For Coach Williams, character in recruiting is a non-negotiable factor. He flat out refuses to sign anyone who is not a person of character. “You can’t consistently win that way, and it certainly is not as much fun.” This bedrock principle was especially satisfying to hear in light of today’s Terrell Owens-type athletes.
7. “Be on the lookout for the little things in recruiting.”
While he is a very personable guy, Coach Williams directly tells people not to chit-chat with him over the summer when he is recruiting. From the time he walks into the gym before games start to the end of the day, he is on a mission. Coach Williams meticulously watches EVERYTHING a potential Carolina recruit does. He especially watches how kids act before and after games, how they interact with coaches, teammates, parents, and officials. He even watches water breaks closely.
He related a story about current Atlanta Hawk and last season’s ACC Freshman of the Year Marvin Williams: Marvin fouled out near the end of a close AAU game. His coach called a time out to talk with the rest of the players. Marvin ran to the end of the bench and filled cups of water for each of his teammates who were still in the game as a way to contribute even though he was on the bench with five fouls. “I don’t want the kids who are too cool. I want guys who are focused on how they can help the team. I absolutely love it when the best player on the team is also the best leader.”
8. “Winning TEAMS get the individual awards and rewards.”
Coach Williams continuously stressed to his players that the end of the year individual awards and rewards go to the teams that win the most games. Player of the Year and All-Conference Awards almost always go to players on the teams that win the most. Thus, Coach Williams team approach would yield the collective rewards of a championship season as well as the individuals awards.
9. “Team vs. Talent — that’s a welcomed insult.”
The media billed the Illinois vs. Carolina national championship game as Team vs. Talent. Coach Williams took great offense to this characterization and bombarded his team with it in the 48 hours before the game. “Everyone thinks we’re too selfish to win a championship. They think we are just a bunch of superstars who aren’t willing to play together to win. Let’s show them that they’re wrong and we can win this thing as a team.”
10. “Illinois is too good of a team not to make a run — I’ve got to be the calmest person in the crowd when they do.”
Going into the championship game against the #1 ranked Illinois’ high-octane offense, Coach Williams realized that there would be a point when Illinois would get on a roll. He knew that his composure during this run might be a critical factor in the game and prepared himself ahead of time to deal with it.
Sure enough, during a nine-minute span in the second half of the championship game, Illinois made 60% of their three-pointers to close within one of Carolina. As his panicked players came to the bench for the media time out, Coach Williams got their attention and calmly reminded them that everything was okay. “Hey guys, we’re fine. Illinois is a great team; they’ve been ranked #1 most of the year. You have to expect them to hit some shots. But as the game goes on and the pressure mounts, they’ll start to tighten up. And there’s no way that they will make those jump shots.” By preparing for and remaining calm in a potential crisis, Coach Williams effectively refocused his team and helped them weather the inevitable storm of adversity that too often spooks other teams.
11. “You can coach someone and still see 30 years later the impact you had — whether good or bad.”
Not many outside of Asheville, NC have ever heard of high school basketball coach Buddy Baldwin. But without his example and influence decades ago on an impressionable high school hoopster named Roy Williams, Coach Williams would likely not be coaching today. “Coach Baldwin was the first person to give me confidence that I could do something. And I really enjoyed how good he made me feel. And I thought that coaching would allow me the opportunity to help other people feel as good as Coach Baldwin made me feel about myself.” Although seemingly insignificant perhaps at the time, Coach Baldwin’s leadership legacy lives on through Coach Williams — who has made thousands of Kansas and Carolina players and alums feel good about themselves.
Finally, all coaches will take some comfort in knowing that Coach Williams’ first season as a high school coach his team went 2-19. Ouch! From an inauspicious start to the pinnacle of Division I men’s college basketball, Coach Roy Williams has always stayed true to himself and his roots and is clearly one of the class acts in coaching today.