BOOK REVIEW: Wooden on Leadership

Reviewed by John Thill, Partner/Vice President, Client Relationships, Personal Strengths, US

“The relationship between a leader and those in the organization determines in many ways whether success will occur.”
– John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach from 1948 to 1975

This book offers lessons in leadership from the legendary coach whose teams won more than 80 percent of their games during his 40-year coaching career.

Title: Wooden on Leadership
Authors: John Wooden and Steve Jamison
Pages: 291 in hard cover

What sort of a coach would begin the first meeting of each year by sharing these three important rules for playing for the team; #1 keep your fingernails trimmed, #2 keep your hair short and #3 keep your shirt tucked into your trunks at all times? It was the same guy that also showed each player how to put their socks and shoes on their feet and tie their shoelaces. These are just a few of the interesting methods used by UCLA’s legendary coach John Wooden.

Wooden on Leadership is a fine book that shares his personal life experiences and his “Pyramid of Success” for achieving competitive greatness and true personal success. He believed that leadership is largely learned and most of us have potential far beyond what we think possible. Wooden said; “As leader, my job was to do everything possible to help those I allowed to join our team achieve this– to create an environment and attitude that brought out the very best in each of them.”

Relationship Awareness Links:

  • “The relationship between a leader and those in the organization determines in many ways whether success will occur.”
  • “Study and respect the individuality of each player and handle them accordingly. Treat each man as he deserves to be treated.”
  • “Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, sensitive or assertive, but about a set of attributes. First and foremost is character.”

To say that John Wooden was analytical and meticulous would be a gross understatement. He organized his practices down to the second and said this about attention to detail; “leave nothing to chance. The difference in the championship and merely good team is often the perfection of minor details.”

Of special interest in this book are his hand-written notes and comments written by his former players as to how the coach impacted their lives on and off the basketball court. Wooden believed that hundreds of small things done right leads to high performance and production.

Quotable Quotes:

“Success is peace of mind which is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

“You can always do more than you think you can.”

“I believe that personal greatness is measured against one’s own potential, not against that of someone else on the team or elsewhere”.

“I believe you must have love in your heart for the people under your leadership. I did.”

“Think small, work hard, get good.”

“Share the ball; think beyond yourself.”

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

“If you don’t think of your team as a family, why should the team think of you as head of the family?”

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

Things you may not know about coach Wooden:

  • He earned a degree from Purdue University with a major in English and minor in Poetry.
  • As a young football coach he lost his temper and got into a fistfight with a player. From this he learned that “emotion is your enemy” and took pride in being labeled a “cold fish” especially under pressure.
  • He never talked to his players about winning. He emphasized preparation, good execution and achieving their personal best.
  • He learned lessons from his father, coaches, his players, poets and even Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln during his life.
  • When he graduated from elementary school his father gave him a handwritten 3X5 card with a Seven Point Creed. He said, “Johnny, try and follow this advice and you’ll do fine.”

What was on the 3X5 card? You’ll need to read the book to find out!