Servant Leadership Example: John Wooden

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My Servant Leadership Hero for today is Coach John Wooden.  Wooden coached the UCLA Bruin Basketball team from 1948 to 1975.

Two of his quotes that exemplify his attitude towards Servant Leadership are:

“Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the result.”

“An effective leader is very good at listening. It’s difficult to listen when you are talking.”

I won’t try to create a biography of John Wooden in 500 words or less, but I would like to connect you to some good resources.  I have gained a lot of respect for John Wooden as I have learned more about him.  I think what jumps out the most is that he combined two seemingly contradictory factors:

  1.  Niceness
  2. Effectiveness

I have noticed that often people who are nice are sometimes too nice to make the tough decisions and to stand up to bullies and to hold people accountable for results.  On the other side of the spectrum, I have noticed that some people who get things done are sometimes not very pleasant to be around, and sometimes are ruthless or downright mean. (Think Donald Trump or Survivor or Jack Welch.)

What inspires me most about John Wooden is that he was both.

By most accounts, he was a kind, soft-spoken Midwestern boy.  He didn’t swear, didn’t cheat, hardly ever raised his voice.  Although he grew up in Indiana, he was no Bobby Knight, that’s for sure!

To give you an idea of what kind of person he was, here is his 7-point creed:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3.  Help others.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

However, the meme that “Nice guys finish last” did not apply to this nice guy.  His teams won 10 NCAA championships in his last 12 years, including 7 in a row.  During this time they had at one point won 88 straight games.  Coach Wooden was hardly a softie!  He demanded, and received, results.  He was effective.

I have leadership duties at home, at work, and at church.  Coach Wooden inspires me to take on those responsibilities with decency and care.  He also inspires me to focus on excellence and results.

Coach John Wooden had the amazing ability to be both nice and effective. Does he inspire you the way he inspires me?  What does he inspire you to do?

More resources here:

Pyramid of Success

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