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Nov
29

Wizard Leadership

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The greatest coach in the history of sports died on June 5th in a small apartment in Encino California at the age of 99. John Wooden, known as the Wizard of Westwood, led the UCLA Bruins to an amazing 10 National Championships in the 1960’s and 70’s. No other coach in college basketball history has more than four titles. He prided himself on being a teacher, coach and mentor. Wooden’s time-less leadership lessons will be shared for generations to come.

I first met Coach Wooden in 1980 as a participant in the McDonald’s All-American basketball game and we have shared many conversations over the years. The most impactful message was delivered prior to a game that I was broadcasting for ESPN in Louisville in 2007.

I asked Coach Wooden, “What is the single most important ingredient for building a successful team?” He smiled and responded, “The key to quality teamwork relates to the second most important word in the English language and that is balance. In basketball, it is critical for players to have their knees bent and to equally distribute their weight on the balls of their feet, which should be shoulder width apart. If an athlete is off-balance, they will never be an effective performer at either end of the court.”

Wooden said, “Championship teams have balance on offense with unselfish passers ready to complement diversified scorers. Strong defenders force missed shots and rebounders secure the ball to start the fast break. Good teams have quality reserves to push the starters in practice and remain ready to perform if given the opportunity. The support staff for winning teams is loaded with high-quality coaches, managers, trainers and fans. Great teams have tremendous balance.”

Wooden continued, “The hidden element of balance within successful teams comes from all of the unique personality traits and special interests that each individual brings to the group. The team concept is strengthened from team members that are involved in church, art, literature, music and other outside activities.” Wooden believed team members perform best when they are happy, content and not completely consumed with a project, game or opponent. His philosophy was based upon a unselfishness and a balanced approach.

John Wooden was a leadership expert and master at team building. His legacy was built upon superstar players who set aside their tremendous egos and individualistic goals for the betterment of the team. In Wooden’s words, “The man ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” In sports, business and life, when the team wins, everyone shares in the credit.

Based upon the teachings of the Wizard of Westwood, I have identified the five most important qualities and characteristics that I believe balanced leaders utilize to elevate the performance of their teams.

1. Deliver an inspirational message of growth
2. Provide a positive vision and direction
3. Create innovative strategies to motivate the team
4. Lead by example with excellent performance
5. Build trust with character and integrity

I asked Coach Wooden, “You have stated that balance is the second most important word in the English language, please share which word is number one.”

He smiled and said, “The most important word is love.” Perfect.

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