Book Review: Wooden on Leadership – How to Create a Winning Organization

If you’re a coach of any sport and you don’t know the name John Wooden, then you’ve missed out. Many consider The Wizard of Westwood is one of the all-time great coaches, with a career highlighted by winning 10 NCAA men’s basketball national championships when he coached UCLA.. No doubt legendary UCLA volleyball coaches Al Scates (men) and Andy Banachowski (women) would tell you they were influenced by Wooden. Both their careers overlapped with his.

Back in the early days of my volleyball coaching career I read They Call Me Coach. It was definitely influential. If you don’t know much about Wooden, that book might be a good starting point as it’s his autobiography.

Wooden on Leadership is more of a management book. It was clearly intended to target business people, but retains a strong coaching flavor. Naturally, that means lots of basketball talk. That’s more in terms of context than anything technical, though.

The first part of the book focuses on Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success. He takes you through each of the 15 blocks. Not only does he explain what each one is about, but also why he placed them where he did.

The second section carries on from the Pyramid concepts and drills down on things. Here you get Woodens views on leadership, managing emotions, incentives and motivation, focusing on performance rather than the score, and the importance of character among several other topics.

The last part of the book actually brings his old coaching notebook in to the discussion. In this section Wooden shares a number of different snippets. They cover a variety of topics related to coaching and leadership.Obviously, they are from a basketball coaching journal, but he does a good job generalizing them.

If you’re like me you’ll stop on a regular basis while reading this book to grab a quote. Here are just a couple that caught my attention.

“The best leaders are lifelong learners; they take measures to create organizations that foster and inspire learning throughout. The most effective leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.”

“For any leader, any organization, the plans are a starting point. That’s why I put them at the beginning of Part Three. The much more difficult task for anyone in a leadership position is to create an environment, a way of thinking, a set of beliefs, that ultimately gets everyone working eagerly and to the best of their ability to make those plans result in a winning organization.”

This is just a taste of the wisdom you’ll find in Wooden on Leadership. I definitely encourage you to put it on your reading list.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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