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Lessons in Culture From Coach Wooden


The most successful men\’s college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden, used to tell his players “be quick but don\’t hurry.” What he meant was that you should play with a sense of urgency but not to rush and risk making careless mistakes.

I frequently refer to this quote when working with clients. When discussing employee behaviors that are most critical to an organization\’s success (we call these Fundamentals), we often discuss the concept of “getting it right the first time” or “slowing down to speed up.” I believe this is what Coach Wooden had in mind when stressing this idea to his players.

There are so many things we can learn from Coach Wooden that would have incredible impact on our organizations. Coach Wooden was a master at creating a culture of success. There is no way he could have won ten national championships (seven of them in a row) and have enjoyed an 88 game winning streak without doing so!

Here are just a few of the things that made Coach Wooden the best ever:

1. He was incredibly intentional about building the right culture. Coach Wooden knew which behaviors, skills and effort were required in building an environment of excellence. He let his players know, with great clarity, what was expected of them. Nothing was left to chance.

2. He led by example. No one worked harder than Coach Wooden. He was always meticulously prepared, organized and he “brought it” every day.

3. He recognized that he was a teacher first. Coach Wooden recognized the incredible teaching opportunities he had with his players. Beyond winning basketball games, he knew he could impact his players\’ lives well beyond their playing time at UCLA. Coach Wooden was beloved by his former players.

4. He understood the importance of repetition. Coach Wooden knew that to truly internalize the behaviors and skills that would make his players successful (especially under pressure) it would take extensive amounts of repetition. His practices were legendary for the attention paid to details and for repeating key concepts and drills over and over again.

5. He stressed the importance of team and family. Coach Wooden understood the power of team. He understood that great teams won championships, not great individuals.

We can learn a lot from this humble coach from a small town in Indiana. While he did not hold an MBA or a degree in organizational development, he knew exactly what it took to build a great team and a great culture. If you\’d like to talk more about how to build a championship team, let\’s talk.  We can help.