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What Leaders Do

This blog post was written by Angela Davis, HOPES’ Human Resources Recruitment Specialist.

Welcome to 2019.  I just feel a hopeful optimism about the coming year and although things may be a bit chaotic in our world, sometimes that is the perfect “fertile ground” to cultivate some self-reflection and growth!  In 2019, my goals are to look at leadership strategies, review the ideals of effective leaders and ultimately learn and integrate principles into my practice as an HR professional and in everyday life.  I hope that by sharing some of my findings, you too might find strategies and tools to integrate into your leadership.  You do know you are a leader, right?

A great deal of discussion has been given to what really makes a great leader.  Jim Collins took to statistically analyzing what made great leaders and ultimately great organizations.  Pillars like Drucker and Kotter also lend their expertise to molding change agents and great transformative leaders.  When one of my colleagues suggested that I could learn a great deal about leadership from a basketball coach I politely smiled and quickly dismissed the idea.  Admittedly, I’m not a basketball fan and have never bought into the “big motivational speeches before the game” style of management.  Apparently neither did Coach John Wooden.

My co-worker was so adamant that I needed to learn about Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success that he gave me books and flyers, all of which I eschewed.  (I do have an oppositional side!)  However, long after my co-worker moved on, I picked up the book and started to read.  Wherever you are, thank you and mea culpa.  You were right!  For those of you like me who are not basketball fans, Coach John Wooden deliberately, intentionally and methodically took the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA national championships in a 12 year period with a record seven in a row.  He was nicknamed the “Wizard of Westwood” and is known for his disciplined approach to teaching, coaching, and life.  He is reported as saying he prized intensity, feared emotionalism and never gave “rah-rah speeches” or pep talks but rather sought absolute intensity as his objective.  Ok, now I’m interested.

While I could go through his “Woodenisms” for pages, I just want to give you a teaser so you’ll research a bit on your own.  In the book, Wooden on Leadership (Wooden & Jamison – McGraw-Hill – 2005), Denny Crum, UCLA Varsity Player (1958-59) and Assistant Coach under Wooden (1969-71) discusses Wooden’s leadership techniques.  He writes “Coach Wooden’s teaching was so effective because he was so well-organized with his details.  “Everything was written out on the 3×5 cards and in notebooks. . .nothing was left to chance, with every minute was accounted for—every single minute.”  As a chronic list maker, this really piqued my interest!  He goes on to discuss his discipline, organization, and consistent precision.

Following are ten leadership characteristics from Wooden on Leadership that really resonated with me:

  1. Leaders know the game they are playing.  Coach John Wooden started out as a basketball player and was steeped in the game.  He played in high school, college and with a traveling team.  He ate, slept and drank basketball.  Wooden continued to condition and play with his team and never distanced himself too far from the game.  He believed that a leader needed to know all facets of the job and be able to execute quickly as well as engage in lifelong learning.
  2. Good leaders are great teachers. Good leaders understand that failure is a necessary ingredient of success.  He wrote, “The coach must never forget that he is, first of all, a teacher.  He must come (be present), see (diagnose), and conquer (correct).  He must continuously be exploring for ways to improve himself in order that he may improve others and welcome every person and everything that may be helpful to him.  As has been said, he must remember, ‘Others, too, have brains.’”  Coach John Wooden’s day job was teaching.  That’s why he went to college.  He believed before telling someone what to do, one had teach how to do it.  He applied this not only to the execution of a specific task but also to the adoption of organizational philosophy, culture, expectations, norms of behavior and more.  He coined the idea of “Don’t Cause Indigestion.”  He had accumulated a wealth of knowledge by the time he arrived at UCLA (an entire binder full to be exact) but he didn’t just give players the binder and expect them to know the information.  He “began cutting it up into bit-size pieces that were easily consumed, understood, and utilized, rather than serving it up in one big feast.”
  3. Leaders are disciplined and practice and demonstrate discipline. Leaders are not driven by emotions, wins or even returns on investments.  While all these things are great, leaders are concerned with helping their team reach their best with consistent, sustainable growth.  Leaders aren’t concerned necessarily about their opponents either.  They are concerned with what is necessary to be the best that the team is capable.  Wooden is reported as saying about his opponents, “Let them adjust to us.”  He was so sure of the necessity of discipline that he believed that before an individual could lead others, they had to be able to lead themselves which meant total commitment to the effort.  When working with his players or his coaches, he permitted no outside interruption.  He was focused on the task and the people at hand.
  4. Great leaders are alert and remain alert at all times whether winning or losing.  Wooden referred to alertness as mental quickness.  He believed leaders are constantly observing, absorbing and learning.  He evaluated not only the strengths and weaknesses of the team but also his own.  He developed a sense of urgent observation and was quick to make corrections.  He wanted to always make sure he “saw it coming.”
  5. Leaders are detailed-oriented. Coach Wooden said a leader needed to master the 4 P’s-Planning, Preparation, Practice, and Performance.  He wrote down tasks, initiatives, and actions that needed to occur for each player to reach the peak of performance.  He choreographed practices, conditioning, and even taught players the appropriate way to put on their socks to protect their feet!  He calculated the impact of decisions.  He evaluated each player’s performance and provided recommendations for correction to reach their personal best.
  6. Leaders are continuous learners. Leaders read widely and continuously seek to learn from a variety of resources.  Wooden never thought his way was the only way.  He cultivated an open flow of ideas and opinions.  He believed a leader who is through learning is just through.  He thought a leader must never be satisfied with their own ability or level of knowledge, and that the true key to success is realization there is always more to learn.
  7. Leaders care about character as much as skill. Wooden believed that a good leader works to create belief in their philosophy, the organization, and in the mission.  To do so, a leader has to create an environment of integrity.  He also held that character was an important cornerstone for leaders and their followers.  He quotes Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do,” referring to character; the values and daily habits which define behavior.  He realized how tough it was to coach character and believed leaders started with little things which might include completing projects within deadlines or even something a bit subtler such as how a manager talks to an employee.  He believed that good leaders not only inform their team about their expectations for a code of ethics, values, and standards but provide an example in their own behaviors.  The leader’s own example counts. He taught his coaches to be the person they wanted others to be.
  8. Leaders are completely absorbed in improvement. He believed the goal for the team was steady and tangible progress; no sharp spikes or peaks but consistent palpable growth.  He also considered emotionalism a liability which opened a leader to inconsistency.  He sought intensity coupled with emotional discipline.  He taught that leaders with volatile temperaments are vulnerable and thus created vulnerability in the team.  The hallmark for successful leadership for Wooden was consistent maximum performance for himself and his team.  He was absolutely committed to doing what was necessary to make UCLA a better team.  “Teach it; practice it.  The details and the fundamentals were his main concern.”
  9. Leaders wear a lot of hats. Leaders act as teachers of course but at times disciplinarians, demonstrators, counselors, role models, psychologists, motivators, timekeepers, quality control experts, talent judges, referees, organizers, planners and even at times the custodian.  He thought leaders needed to be expert delegators and know when and how to do it.  Finally, Wooden held that a leader needed to know his or her role and remember it is the team that scored the points, with the leader simply teaching them how.
  10. Leaders have a love for the people they lead. “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Although Coach Wooden felt that making friends was not the responsibility or the goal of leadership, he thought of his team as a family.  He also understood that same ideal placed him as the head of his family.  Wooden said he took a stance of firm flexibility.  He had specific expectations for the team of which he was firm and he also knew when to be flexible.  Wooden strived to do what was best for the team.  He was quick to give credit for success and able to accept blame when things failed.  He considered having love in your heart for the people under one’s leadership included teaching, guiding, correcting, developing a sense of responsibility and ultimately doing what needed to be done to help each member reach their personal best.  He believed that a leader didn’t have to treat everyone identically or like everyone the same but he endeavored to never replace fairness with favoritism.  He felt true leaders seek opportunities to care.

John Wooden believed “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”  He recognized leadership is largely learned and having a good model is often the catalyst for individual greatness.  He understood and instilled in his team that each person has potential far beyond what is believed possible.  Integrating his father’s advice, he lived as if success was found in the “running of your race,” and planning, preparation, practice, and performance counted for everything.  In his mind, effort is the ultimate measure of success.

One of the many reasons I love working at Northern Nevada HOPES is the empowerment each employee has to exercise their leadership capabilities.  Employees understand they are ALL part of the amazing mission of Northern Nevada HOPES.  If you are interested in becoming part of the HOPES family, please check our website at https://www.nnhopes.org/about/careers/.

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