John Wooden is a basketball coaching legend – in his 27 years at UCLA, his teams had a winning percentage of 81%, and they won a unfathomable 10 NCAA titles.
He was also a lifetime student of leadership and personal development, creating what he called the “Pyramid of Success“.
He is now 99 years old – and in a recent ESPN interview (do watch it – it’s extraordinary), he revealed what he considered to be the two most important elements of all his success:
To him, love is the “most powerful thing there is“. It was certainly powerful in his personal life – he had a strong bond with his father who taught him the value of loyalty, and was married to his high school sweetheart Nell for 53 years until her passing in 1985, with a deep and abiding love that is still burning brightly.
What’s more, the power of love carried over into his professional life, with the manner in which he coached and led his teams. Here is what he said back in 1996 about a leader’s responsibility:
“You must set an example. Your players must know that you care for them more than just as athletes. Certainly, they understand that they are there because of their athletic ability, speaking of college. That’s why they’re there. That’s paying their way. But when you have them under your supervision, it’s up to you to make sure that they understand that you care for them as individuals. As…Alonzo Stagg said, he never had one he didn’t love. A lot of them he didn’t like, couldn’t respect. But he loved them just the same.”
John Wooden knew that if he was to earn the trust of his players, and lead them to greatness, he had to love them. Then, and only then, he could apply the principles of his “Pyramid of Success“, which requires much focus, discipline and practice.
This is not a new concept when it comes to great leadership- after all, in one of the oldest leadership books out there, The Art of War (it goes back to the 6th Century BC), Sun Tzu said “He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will stand by him until death”.
However, it is not a concept well suited to the typically rough and tumble world of business. It’s a point of view that dares not speak its name in the halls and in the boardrooms. It seems too “soft” – too “wishy-washy“. As if speaking about loving our teammates would be the ultimate weakness, a major flaw that could be regularly exploited by the more ruthless, manipulative and cynical people in the workplace.
It is also seemingly incompatible with downsizing, and layoffs, and other actions that are taken “for the good of the business”.
What John Wooden has taught us is that love is NOT “soft” – it is NOT incompatible. It is essential. If every leader out there could practice what he has preached for so many years, imagine what a different (and better) world this would be.
Because after all, we’re talking about humans here- we all function better in environments where we know in our hearts that our caretakers, our mentors, and our leaders, really care about us, and are doing their best to guide and teach us.
That’s “the most powerful thing” at work – it binds, it inspires, and makes success possible beyond our wildest dreams.
Just ask John Wooden.
What’s love got to do with leadership?
(This one is for BB. Love always..)