Winning or losing, according to Coach John Wooden, was a by-product of preparation and hard work combined with enthusiasm. For Coach Wooden, success, was not so much about an accumulation of wins over losses but more about how the game is played. In his book “Wooden on Leadership” his players say that they don’t recall their coach stressing the importance of winning a game.
If success is measured in accomplishments, then add to Coach Wooden’s tally, 10 NCAA National Championships in a 12-year period as Head Coach at UCLA, including a record seven in a row. As if this wasn’t enough, he led his team through a record 88 consecutive game wins. He also took the UCLA Bruins through two Championship wins despite them being the shortest team in the League, an achievement that is almost inconceivable in basketball’s height-dominated world.
The birth of the Pyramid of Success
Whilst being an English teacher back in his early days, John Wooden, saw parents criticizing their children for receiving grades that were less than an “A” or a “B”. That was the time when he knew that he needed to define success differently. Success, according to Wooden, was not about grades, wins, monetary rewards or power but about finding ‘peace of mind’. Coach Wooden defines ‘peace of mind’ as, “a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”
It was ’success’ defined as ‘peace of mind’ that led to the creation of John Wooden’s iconic triangular diagram that came to be known as the “Pyramid of Success”. And, as you may have guessed, it was not created merely with basketball in mind. Even the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a player of Coach Wooden’s winning UCLA team, incorporates aspects of Wooden’s philosophy and pyramid into his own coaching and personal life.
This coach’s diagram (which is made up of 15 different building blogs) was simply a roadmap to being a better person or to being the best person you deserve to be.
As Coach Wooden mentions in his book, there was one crucial soft skill – amongst many – that he successfully managed to cultivate in the players of his team. It was this skill that enabled them to never be ‘caught off guard’, to have an immediate response to whatever tactics their opponents deployed and to stay ahead of the latter, both in points and in game. That one trait was alertness or, according to Wooden, the ability to be constantly observing, absorbing, and learning from what’s going on around you. This is known in the sports realm as “making instantaneous adjustments during play”.
Wooden’s alertness and Darwin’s adaptability of the species – in that those who survive are not the strongest nor the most intelligent ones, but those able to adapt to change – are very closely connected in my opinion. A vivid example of that was Wooden’s ‘short’ team taking on much taller opponents and beating them on their own game. They accomplished such feat not only by being alert on the court but also by being willing and able to adapt to their opponents’ offensive and defensive tactics. It is by making proper and instant adjustments to their game during play, that led to unparalleled success.
The Triple-A formula
The Triple-A (Alertness, Adaptability and Adjustment) formula is also a formidable tool in the hands of any corporate executive. One of the main measurements of ‘success’ for corporations is profit. To make notable profits is a result of being able to sell products or render services better than your competition does. And being profitable, in this fast paced and technologically advanced corporate world of ours, entails alertness (i.e. observing, absorbing, and learning from what’s going on around you). Corporations that fail to do so tend to fall behind their competition and, ultimately, they fall off the wagon. The same holds true for people in key hierarchical positions within corporations, such as managers. If they are sluggish rather than alert, complacent rather than ‘hungry’, happy with the status quo instead of adjusting to trends and changing customer preferences they will soon find themselves out of a job wondering ‘why didn’t I see it coming?’ just like the crew of the Titanic, following a collision with an iceberg, that fateful night.
As Coach Wooden says, “a driver who’s asleep at the wheel will crash; the same happens to organizations whose leader does not exhibit Alertness.” Successful leaders have a sixth sense in ‘always see it coming’. This is attributed to the fact that they are alert and have their eyes open even when “their counterparts aren’t even looking”. And they take action, every single time. First they sense, then they adapt and, ultimately, they act. The Triple-A formula is at full play. This is what distinguishes the great leaders from the mediocre ones, and the successful Managers from the less successful ones. After all, “failure to act is often the biggest failure of all”.