I was never a great basketball player, but I seemed to have a knack for teaching and have always been able to steadily improve that ability. Being in the classroom with 30 young minds is a tremendous experience for me. One of the sayings I have is “You can con a con and you can fool a fool, but you can never kid a kid.” Don’t even try because they’ll catch you and you may never be able to regain their trust, which is essential if you’re going to be a coach, a teacher, or any kind of a leader.
It’s really easy to fool yourself. It’s even possible to fool the people you work for. It’s more difficult to fool the people you work with. And it’s almost impossible to fool the people whom you are responsible for. Whatever line of work you’re in, lead with integrity. Practice what you preach and have a sense of spirituality in your life. It will add depth and meaning to your beliefs and help you stand strong in the face of adversity.
With that in mind, you’d better be planned, practiced, and prepared to lead your team toward its objectives. By way of preparation, I’ve always been a list guy. I like to put my plans down on paper, what I want to do that day as well as what I want to do next week and maybe even for the rest of my life. This helps me focus, and the fact that the goals are in writing motivates me to make them become realities.
Good coaches and teachers realize that they don’t know everything, that they can learn a lot from the people they’re teaching, and that they should never stop learning. They understand that it’s essential to communicate and that the greatest communication skill a person can develop is a skill of listening.
Listening is your greatest skill. Back in my coaching days, I always met individually with my players for at least 10 or 15 minutes a week, whether it was in the gym, after practice, or on the way to the airport or somewhere. I would just try to get to know them a little better and make sure they were on top of their situations, in class, on the court, and in life in general. Each player has his own problems and his own unique challenges, and good coaches recognize that each player is an individual.
Each year I gave my assistants and my players an opportunity to come into my office and talk to me about what they think. I would say, “Tell me whatever you think I can do to help you become a better player or a better coach.” I told them they could say anything they want to me. I asked them what motivates them, what they like and dislike. I really believe that the true essence of coaching is, if I can find the button that turns you on and motivates you to the nth degree, you can reach the maximum and be the best that you can be.
I gave my players daily doses of motivation. “Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life is hard.” At times, a coach and teacher must be a disciplinarian. It can be hard for some people to do. I believe that players want to be disciplined, they want to be loved, and discipline is a form of love. Discipline is what you do for somebody, not to somebody. Players can become bitter, or they can become better. That’s their choice. I really believe in my heart that players want to be taught. They want to be coached; they want to learn. They want to be in an environment where they have an authority figure. And my goal in dealing with my players was to be a model and not a critic.
In trying to learn about others and how to motivate them, I’ve discovered the importance of learning about yourself. I found that one way to learn about yourself is by reading from a wide variety of sources. I’m a keeper of everything, a real packrat when it comes to written materials. I call it being “a holy tearer” (as opposed to terror!). Â I’m always clipping articles and quotations that say something impactful to me.
I try to stay fresh and up to date on what’s happening. I’m constantly reading and jotting things down in a notebook, keeping files on attitudes, leadership, and other topics. Paper and pencils are always at hand. Beside my desk, in my car, beside my nightstand. I wake up in the middle of the night, write something down, and go back to sleep. My collection works double-duty. If it inspires and motivates me, there’s a good chance I’ll use it to inspire others.
As a coach, I also had to coach my assistants. During the season, I would watch four game films a week: our two most recent games so I could find areas where I could find improvement, and footage of our next two opponents so I could help my team prepare for them. My assistants would help out by watching film of future opponents and evaluating them. Then, of course, we shared the information with the team because shared information is essential to any successful organization.
It’s amazing how often you can pick up something useful, maybe even learn what not to do, which on the surface is totally unrelated to what you do. For example, I might find some useful quotation from a magazine on selling. Well, I was a salesman in some ways; that was a part of the job. As a former recruiter, I sold UCLA and its basketball program to potential student athletes. You’ve probably noticed that sports quotations are often used as motivational tools by salespeople and other people in the business world. It’s all related. Sports mirrors business, and we’re all in some kind of business. We’re all salespeople to some extent.
People tell me I’m an organized, patterned kind of guy. I’ve always liked to have a list of things to do. As a coach, I hope I’d never left any stone unturned. I saw my work as never done. You see, the more you prepare and learn, the more you can teach. I started this practice of writing everything down when I was a head coach in high school. I discovered that often things flash through your mind, and if you don't record them, you forget about them. With any practice like this, there’s more than one method you can use. I just keep little notes all over the place. My three sons, on the other hand, all carry and use those Franklin Planners. Your method isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you’re using something to stay organized and in control of your life.
When I first became a coach back in 1964, I went to every clinic I could go to, six or seven a year. And I still have every note I’ve ever taken from every clinic I’ve attended. I have files and files of information from the legendary Coach John Wooden and other sources. I still refer to these sources frequently because repetition is the greatest teacher you have.
The greatest learning experience I’ve ever had has been learning about people. Once I came to California though, I really started growing as a person because I came into contact with so much more diversity and started learning more about people. The more you learn about people, the more you adjust and grow and develop yourself as a person, and the more influential you can be as a teacher and a leader.
Teamwork is the ability to function together as a unit toward the achievement of a common goal. It makes effective use of people with diverse skills that complement one another. I would need my passers and shooters and rebounders and shot blockers, my strength and my speed. Your company is also made up of diverse people with skills that blend together to make your company what it is. You may have manufacturing and marketing and sales and distribution and customer service for example. Only by blending those varied skills together into an effective unit can your team be successful.
One of the important things to remember in putting your team together â€” whether it’s in recruiting, hiring, or putting together a special-project team â€” is that you don’t necessarily go with the five best players as individuals. You want the five players who together make the best team. That’s chemistry. They work well together, and they make things happen.
My friend Denis Waitley, with whom I’ve shared the stage, has studied winners from all walks of life, from Olympic athletes to NASA astronauts to Fortune 500 executives. He has pointed out that there are five intangible characteristics of any winning team. One is shared vision. The individual team members strive in a unified direction because they have goals that are clearly defined. They are in agreement that the goals are worthy and they want to accomplish them.
Another characteristic is empathy or understanding and identification with one another. Through the learning process, the team members have come to understand how their actions affect one another and how they must work together to accomplish their objectives. Then there’s synergy, which is an exciting one. Synergy is when the whole of a unit is more powerful than the sum of its individual parts. That has a lot to do with chemistry. We’ve all seen teams in which individuals were not necessarily outstanding, but as a unit, they really seem to gel and could accomplish great things. Obviously there’s trust among the team members in terms of their abilities and their motivations.
And finally, you have enjoyment, which is something a lot of people overlook. I’m a firm believer that work should be both productive and fun. When you accomplish something together as a team, the feeling you get is indescribable. It’s wonderful. It’s exhilarating. Obviously you have a lot more fun when you’re successful. I never failed to go on to the floor for a game without saying, “Let’s have fun.”
Put these things together, and you have the blueprint for a championship team, either on the court or in your business.