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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crisis = Danger + Opportunity

Crisis is a time of opportunity for leaders. The Chinese word for crisis - weiji - is made up of two characters - danger and opportunity.

Renewing American Leadership

Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of GE delivered an impressive speech to the United States Military Academy yesterday. In it, he said:

'To realise a better economic future, our country must change how we compete. In order to change, we must have: an understanding of what happened; a plan to win; and leaders who have the courage to change themselves and others.'

The full speech is well worth reading - http://files.gereports.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/90304-2-JRI-Speech-Reprint1-557.qxd_8.5x11.pdf

Here are the 5 leadership traits which GE is committed to improving:
  • Leaders have to be better listeners.
  • Leaders must become systems thinkers who are comfortable with ambiguity.
  • Leaders must build competency and move with speed.
  • Leaders must motivate with vision, but win through execution.
  • Leaders must like and respect people.


John Wooden - The Values of a Great Leader

In this video, ESPN's Rick Reilly profiles the great love affair between legendary coach John Wooden and his late wife, Nell:


Leadership – What’s Love Got To Do With it?

“It’s the most powerful thing there is” – John Wooden

John Wooden is a basketball coaching legend – in his 27 years at UCLA, his teams had a winning percentage of 81%, and they won a unfathomable 10 NCAA titles.

He was also a lifetime student of leadership and personal development, creating what he called the “Pyramid of Success“. He is now 99 years old – and in a recent ESPN interview he revealed what he considered to be the two most important elements of all his success:

Love and Balance.

To him, love is the “most powerful thing there is“. It was certainly powerful in his personal life – he had a strong bond with his father who taught him the value of loyalty, and was married to his high school sweetheart Nell for 53 years until her passing in 1985, with a deep and abiding love that is still burning brightly.

What’s more, the power of love carried over into his professional life, with the manner in which he coached and led his teams. Here is what he said back in 1996 about a leader’s responsibility:

“You must set an example. Your players must know that you care for them more than just as athletes. Certainly, they understand that they are there because of their athletic ability, speaking of college. That’s why they’re there. That’s paying their way. But when you have them under your supervision, it’s up to you to make sure that they understand that you care for them as individuals. As…Alonzo Stagg said, he never had one he didn’t love. A lot of them he didn’t like, couldn’t respect. But he loved them just the same.”

John Wooden knew that if he was to earn the trust of his players, and lead them to greatness, he had to love them. Then, and only then, he could apply the principles of his “Pyramid of Success“, which requires much focus, discipline and practice.

This is not a new concept when it comes to great leadership- after all, in one of the oldest leadership books out there, The Art of War (it goes back to the 6th Century BC), Sun Tzu said “He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will stand by him until death”.

However, it is not a concept well suited to the typically rough and tumble world of business. It’s a point of view that dares not speak its name in the halls and in the boardrooms. It seems too “soft” – too “wishy-washy“. As if speaking about loving our teammates would be the ultimate weakness, a major flaw that could be regularly exploited by the more ruthless, manipulative and cynical people in the workplace.

It is also seemingly incompatible with downsizing, and layoffs, and other actions that are taken “for the good of the business”.

What John Wooden has taught us is that love is NOT “soft” – it is NOT incompatible. It is essential. If every leader out there could practice what he has preached for so many years, imagine what a different (and better) world this would be.

Because after all, we’re talking about humans here- we all function better in environments where we know in our hearts that our caretakers, our mentors, and our leaders, really care about us, and are doing their best to guide and teach us.

That’s “the most powerful thing” at work – it binds, it inspires, and makes success possible beyond our wildest dreams.

Just ask John Wooden.

What’s love got to do with leadership?


Coach John Wooden - A True Leader

John Wooden was born on his parents' farm near Centerville, Indiana. Life was difficult for the Woodens. Their farm had neither running water nor electricity and money was often in short supply. In later years, Coach Wooden would credit his success to the habits of discipline and hard work he learned on the farm.

Rural America did not share in the prosperity enjoyed by large cities in the 1920s. In 1924, the Woodens, like many farm families, went bankrupt and lost their farm. The family moved to Martinsville, a small town which, like so many in Indiana, took great pride in the performance of its high school basketball teams. Wooden, who had shown a gift for the game from grade school days, soon became a star player on his high school team. The team went to the state championship three years running, and won it twice. While still in high school, John met Nellie Riley. By his own account, it was love at first sight, and the two teenagers decided to marry as soon as John finished college.

John Wooden entered Purdue University in Indiana to study civil engineering, but became an English major instead. In college basketball, he earned a reputation as a fearless player of dazzling speed. He made All-American three years running and won a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

After graduation in 1932, he was offered a spot on the Celtics professional basketball team, but passed it up to begin a teaching career and marry his beloved Nellie. His first post was in Dayton, Kentucky, where he not only taught high school English, but coached all of the school's athletic teams. The basketball team had a losing season, the only one in Wooden's entire career. The following year, John and Nellie settled in South Bend, Indiana, where he taught English and coached the basketball team of South Bend Central High School. In eleven years of coaching high school basketball Wooden's teams won 218 games, losing only 42.

The young coach served as a physical education instructor in the United States Navy during World War II. Appendicitis kept him from shipping off for the South Pacific. A Japanese kamikaze plane struck the ship Wooden was to travel on, killing the officer who had taken his place.

After military service, Wooden, like many other teachers he knew, was not re-hired at his old job. He quickly found work however, at Indiana State Teachers' College, later known as Indiana State University. He coached basketball at the school, resuming his string of winning seasons.

In 1948, Wooden accepted an offer to coach the UCLA Bruins. At the time, the team was considered the weakest in the Pacific conference. The University had not provided the team with the facilities usually considered essential; the Bruins lacked a home court to play in, and had to share practice facilities with the school's other teams.

Wooden's Bruins astonished the skeptics by winning 22 out of 29 games in his first season as coach. The following year, they took 24 out of 31 and won their conference championship. Under Wooden's tutelage, the Bruins maintained their high win-loss ratio, and won the Pacific conference titles again in 1952, 1956, 1962 and 1963.

In 1964, Wooden achieved a long sought-after goal. His team had a perfect season, and won the NCAA championship. The following year, they won the title again, losing only two games in a 30-game season. What they lacked in size, the 1964 and '65 Bruins made up for in speed, discipline and an extra-keen will to win that has been the hallmark of all of Wooden's teams. The break-up of this championship lineup may have cost the Bruins the championship in 1966, but they came back with a vengeance in 1967, and held the championship for the next seven years.
The seven-foot center Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) dominated the Bruins' game for the first three seasons of their seven-year streak. Bill Walton was the dominant star of the 1973 and '74 seasons, when UCLA set the all-time record for an unbroken winning streak: 88 consecutive games. In 1974, UCLA again won the Pacific conference title, but lost to North Carolina State in the NCAA semi-finals.

The Bruins bounced back in 1975, Coach Wooden's last year, winning 27 out of 30 games, turning around a losing semi-final against Louisville in the closing minute of the game. In the final game of the tournament, UCLA defeated the University of Kentucky, 92-85.

In all his years as coach, John Wooden prohibited his players from any use of profanity, and consistently avoided it himself. Still, in his first 12 years at UCLA, the coach developed a fearsome reputation among opposing teams for the fanciful harangues he directed at officials and opposing players from the bench. This habit is virtually the only aspect of his career for which the coach has expressed any regret. In the championship years, fans and players alike noticed a distinct mellowing of Wooden's behaviour on the bench.

One of Coach Wooden's proudest moments, he later recalled, came when he overheard one of his players, an African-American, reply to a reporter's question about racial tensions on the team: "You don't know our coach. He doesn't see colour. He just sees ballplayers."