AP
In this this Jan. 19, 1974 file photo, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, center, talks to his team during the last time out against Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind.

In a day where “looking out for number one” is the popular belief and narcissistic public figures rule in politics, businesses and communities, one would be right to complain of a clear lack of leadership. In short, Americans don’t have the leaders they want because few are committed to take the time to teach the kind of leaders the country needs. Teaching takes time and effort and isn't relegated solely to those who teach in a classroom.

As March Madness approaches its close, it’s worth considering lessons in leadership from one of the NCAA legends.

Forty-four years ago this week, Coach John Wooden won his 10th NCAA championship and retired from coaching. Wooden guided his vaunted UCLA teams to an amazing seven championship titles in a row. He never spoke of winning, only of succeeding.

His success on the hardwood as the Wizard of Westwood is unrivaled. But his real achievements didn't happen during game time. Success came by everything else he did to develop his players into men of character. Wooden was a master teacher of powerful principles.

Wooden said in 2001, “I love to teach — this quote helped me — ‘No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be, nor all the books on all the shelves — it's what the teachers are themselves.’” That is leadership.

Following are a few lessons from Coach Wooden that leaders at every level would be wise to live:

  • Character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
  • Never be late.
  • A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.
  • Ability is a poor man's wealth.
  • Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  • Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
  • Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.
  • It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Decades after Wooden’s legendary run, social scientist Arthur Brooks also had leadership on the mind when he commented on the current dearth of leaders on the national stage. In an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner, Brooks writes, “Most lasting moral victories are propelled by authoritative leaders, not those who belittle, coerce or polarize. When we land upon hard times, it is only natural to look for a coercive leader, one who will identify the enemy, shake up the status quo, and fight using any means necessary, dirty or clean.”

The solution, says Brooks, is for everyone to assume the role of authoritative leader, exhibiting the kind of behavior they wish to see in their national leaders.

7 comments on this story

We agree. The country can’t afford to wait for its leaders to shape up. Instead, everyone must engage in becoming the kind of leader that will look critically at problems and engage the best minds in finding solutions.

America needs to expect more, not less, from those who serve to represent the nation’s interests. Coach Wooden was right that character counts and is the key to lasting leadership. The nation is best served when people exemplify the kind of leadership they want and take the time to teach others, especially the young, the type of leadership the nation desperately needs.