John Wooden

Lessons in Leadership: John Wooden

October 13, 2017 by

Sport is a great place to turn when looking for examples of great leadership. You think of the legendary coaches who led their teams to tremendous success.

To me, one person who stands out as a great source of inspiration and an example of a great leader, is the late John Wooden, former UCLA Men’s Head Basketball Coach.

John Wooden is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport. He was the Head Basketball Coach at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1948 – 1975. Towards the end of his tenure as a head basketball coach, he won ten national championships in the space of twelve years.

His achievements on the court and building UCLA into a dominant program was an amazing feat in and of itself. But there was more to his leadership than just the trophies.

There is a chapter in our Collaborative Project Management Handbook that starts with the following quote:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States*


Wooden captured that essence in his approach.

One of the things that always strikes me when I read profiles of his teams and about his life, is that he wasn’t necessarily interested in the accolades of winning multiple national championships. But rather, he sought to build the character of the young men he coached and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves. To become leaders themselves.


Pyramid of Success

During his time coaching basketball teams, Wooden distilled his leadership model into a framework he called the Pyramid of Success.  The interesting thing about it is that it is not built to create better basketball players or winning teams. It’s rather a framework to be a better team member, a better leader, and a better person.

The pyramid’s foundation is built on 12 key traits:

  1. Industriousness
  2. Friendship
  3. Loyalty
  4. Cooperation
  5. Enthusiasm
  6. Self-Control
  7. Alertness
  8. Initiative
  9. Intentness
  10. Condition
  11. Skill
  12. Team Spirit
  13. Poise
  14. Confidence
  15. Competitive Greatness


Check out the rest of the Pyramid of Success here.


The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding

Wooden was an inspiration and leader both, in and out of sports. Here is an inspiring Ted Talk discussing between winning and success, and how he cultivated his own leadership approach.

I think it’s well worth a watch.

* Maybe Dolly Parton, but we at BrightWork still like this summary of a positive leadership style!

Video Source: Ted

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Billy Guinan
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