Published on Forbes 8/14/2014
An entrepreneur learns by doing, creating, failing, and eventually succeeding. Great entrepreneurs are elite athletes in their chosen field of play. They don’t need CEOs, organizational charts, or superfluous titles to score. They need a good team and a solid coach to break through their own barriers/internal challenges and innovate.
The entrepreneurial life lessons from the legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden are without equal. Coach Wooden left us in 2010 at the age of 99 and yet he continues to live on through his simple yet profound insights. His record of accomplishment in the sporting arena was remarkable. Yet even more remarkable is how he lived his life off the court and the lessons he taught his players are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.
Time passes, games are won and lost, fame comes and goes, and our legacy is created in the pages of the days. Coach Wooden passed down the secret for making the most of our time, and if we follow his “trail of quotes” we can create our own paths of excellence that perhaps one day others will find meaning in.
John Wooden played on Purdue University's basketball team in the 1930s and later coached UCLA to 10 National Championships from 1964 to 1975.
John Wooden played on Purdue University’s basketball team in the 1930s and later coached UCLA to 10 National Championships from 1964 to 1975. “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player. It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”– Former UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden
The life lessons taught by Coach Wooden are surprisingly simple, yet game changing and memorable. “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” said Wooden.
He also said, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out, and adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”
There is a lot of wisdom embedded within these two quotes, and we realized while reading the quotes that the sum of our lives can also be measured by the words that remain after we move on. It is remarkable to note that Wooden’s words are as relevant today as when he walked the earth.
Here’s to all the great coaches working hard today to build great teams of people who perform with character, dignity, and true athletic ability that ultimately make the world a better place for us all; those rare souls who play all-out for the love of the game and, even more so, love their people. And here’s to all the people who have the honor of being in the presence of great coaches. Learn well so that you can take these learnings and become a great coach, too, which we all can become if we choose to.
Our team wove some of Coach Wooden’s quotes together to help inspire us as we prepare to enter the next quarter of play in the game of work. It is also our way of respecting and honoring a great human being and to let him know that wherever he is coaching now, he has not been forgotten. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment,” said Wooden.
Lesson 1 – Know Who You Are, What You Stand for and Whose Team You Play For
“What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player. The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one. Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
The same holds true in the game of work. A successful entrepreneur knows the game does not end when the buzzer goes off at 5pm. The entrepreneur feels the call and answers it. It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life, it’s a paradigm. You can become an entrepreneur/intrapreneur in your current job today by applying Coach Wooden’s principles. The basketball greats – the ones we love – played for the love of the game.
The secret to success: Dress it up any way that you want – call it karma, call it whatever you like – what you put out into this world returns to you.
Lesson 2 – Discover The Courage Within to Create Something Bigger Than Your Ego
“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming. Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights. You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
We believe it is more important to be true to yourself and to know who you are and what you stand for than it is to be popular with the crowd. True entrepreneurs will know success and defeat and will learn from both.
Wooden grew up in Indiana on a farm that had no running water or electricity and little money. He credited his success to the hard work he learned on the farm. He was no stranger to adversity, yet he never gave up hope. “Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”
Entrepreneurs don’t require managers, but they can thrive with a great coach who can cut through layers and see the heart of the player.
Our “reputations” change with the seasons. We will be judged, loved, and hated. Coach Wooden reminds us not to let our egos get too big during the winning seasons and to know that we can pick ourselves up off the floor after a massive defeat.
Lesson 3 – At the End of Your Life People Will Matter More Than Money or Points on the Scoreboard
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes. Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be. Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
Wooden remained close to many of his former players in his long years of retirement. There are a lot of people who go through life making others feel small or incompetent to mask their own insecurities. Ultimately, they find themselves all alone having won the game of their creation.
Everyone makes mistakes – people generally fall into two camps. The players who get really good at pointing out all the flaws and the players who lend a helping hand and help the fallen back into the game with no judgment.
In closing, we share what we believe was Wooden’s Secret Recipe for Success: “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability. It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Wooden covered it all.