THE Secret to Success | What I Learned from John Wooden
If I were to ask you, “Are you successful?” What would be your response? Most people would recognize success as completing an objective or reaching a goal. I’m often amazed at how many people define success as achieving material positions or money. As it turns out, this is some sort of winning but NOT success at all!
You can lose when you achieve all you desire. And you can win when you’re in the middle of an unknown path.—Reza Ghiabi
It is maybe our collective and historical image of success that causes dictionaries like Merriam Webster to define success as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame”. Webster also defines a successful person as a person who “has gotten or achieved wealth, respect, or fame”.
I can think of a bunch of characters who have been successful with the Webster’s definition. On top of the list is Don Corleone. He had respect, wealth, and he was famous for what he was doing. But was he truly successful? I think not.
Perhaps it is our potential that Patrick Ness —author of More Than This, describes in his book when he writes “there’s always more than this. There’s always something you don’t know”. That is why Coach John Wooden who has led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball, shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing success that’s about much more than winning.
Born in 1910, Coach John Wooden was the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and coach, while ESPN ranks him as the greatest coach of all time, across all sports. In his 40 years at UCLA, he mentored legends such as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Coach’s TED Speaker’s profile describes he wanted his players to be victors in life and not just on the court, so he treated them as an extended family and emphasized that winning was more than scoring. Indeed, most of his inspiring theories were born from conversations with his father, as a boy on their farm in Indiana. One that sums up his ideology quite well is his often-quoted definition of success:
Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.—John Wooden
I heard the above definition for the first time on Wooden’s TEDTalk: The difference between winning and succeeding. The talk was so inspirational that I immediately translated it to Farsi to help to share his views. ُThe definition reminded me of the story of Solomon’s ant, which when all creatures in obedience to him, brought him presents, dragged before him a locust and was therefore preferred before all others because it had brought a creature so much bigger than itself. The ant did and became his best. It makes sense!
We are all equal in that we can all strive to become the best we are capable of becoming. We can always improve but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. We get in trouble when we start trying to measure up to someone else.—John Wooden
To Coach Wooden, it wasn’t about the final score, about winning or losing. It was about the hard work and effort that was put forth on the journey to get to the final score. But how?
In his book, Wooden on Leadership, the coach has illustrated his ‘Pyramid of Success‘ which he had worked on it for 15 years. Coach Wooden built his Pyramid, 14 building blocks of human determination, leading to the apex, the 15th building block – Competitive Greatness.
The qualities of each level are complementary, but the cornerstones, industriousness, and enthusiasm, are especially synergistic together, forming the starting point to the whole philosophy. The Pyramid allowed Wooden’s players to summon their best anytime, and they began the summoning by being enthusiastic about their work.
- Industriousness > In plain and simple English this means hard work. Very hard work. There is no substitute for very hard work when it comes to success.
- Friendship > The two qualities of Friendship that are so important are respect and camaraderie. These are the most noteworthy characteristics of true Friendship as it pertains to leadership.
- Loyalty > Loyalty is part of our higher nature and it is also part of the nature of leaders who achieve higher goals. The power of Loyalty is the reason the coach placed it in the center of the Pyramid’s foundation.
- Cooperation > Sharing ideas, information, responsibilities, creativity, and tasks is a priority of good leadership and great teams. This is Cooperation. (The only thing that is not shared is blame. A strong self-confident leader gives credit to others, when deserved, and takes the blame. A weak leader takes credit and gives blame.)
- Enthusiasm > The two cornerstones of the coach’s Pyramid of Success, Industriousness and Enthusiasm, provide strength individually but much more strength when combined as one.
- Self-control > Getting to the top and staying there (somewhat different tasks) present unique and formidable challenges. To do either requires great Self-Control. This characteristic within the Pyramid of Success addresses the importance of controlling yourself in all areas – avoiding temptations, avoiding emotionalism, avoiding peaks and valleys of effort.
- Alertness > There is activity going on around us at all times from which we can acquire knowledge if we have Alertness. Too often we get tunnel vision and don’t see the full picture which precludes learning things that are available.
- Initiative > Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all. The initiative is the ability to act. Simple as that. You must prepare thoroughly in all ways. If you have done that you must then summon the wherewithal to apply Initiative.
- Intentness > This personal quality may be as important as any within the Pyramid. It is the ability to stay the course even when that course is most difficult and the obstacles seem insurmountable. You do not quit intent.
- Condition > You must be in physical condition, but you must also have mental and moral conditions. All three are components in this block of the Pyramid because you can’t have one without the others. Weak mental or moral Condition precludes top physical Condition.
- Skill > At the very center of the Pyramid of Success is Skill. You have to know your stuff and that includes a mastery of details.
- Team spirit > This block of the Pyramid addresses a most important characteristic: selflessness which is the opposite of selfishness. You are eager to sacrifice personal glory or gain for the greater good, namely, the welfare and success of your organization, your team, your group.
- Confidence > There is no stronger steel than well-founded belief in yourself; the knowledge that your preparation is fully complete and that you are ready for the competition.
- Poise > Just be yourself. Don’t pretend to be what you are not. Don’t get rattled, thrown off or unbalanced regardless of the circumstance or situation. Leaders with Poise do not panic under pressure.
- Competitive Greatness > Competitive Greatness is having a real love for the hard battle knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.
Wooden spent a lifetime figuring out what works, not just what works in basketball, but in life. If you think about it, business and basketball have plenty in common. Both are team sports. Both are contact sports. Both necessitate strong leaders. And both require quick reflexes.
So there you have John Wooden’s secret to true success. Now I suggest that all of you, as an entrepreneur, administrator or official, put forth the effort this season to become a successful person first and then a successful entrepreneur, administrator or official.