How Coach John Wooden Stayed In The Flow

What it means to be successful and yet lose.

For most people it’s hard not to think about the famous UCLA coach John Wooden during March. After all during March Madness we are all reminded he was the most successful basketball coach of all time.

John Wooden Quote - Making the Best Out Of It

Very few people would disagree with that commentary. He coached several teams to unbeaten records…including a streak of 88 consecutive victories…won ten national championships and contributed many players to the NBA.

Businesses are like basketball in many ways. Both of them utilize a variety of scorecards keeping track of “winning”.

In basketball the overall objective is to win games, emerge as league champions and ultimately win a season’s final tournament.

Dictate your own standard of success.

In business success is measured with such terms as revenue, profits, market share, stock value and cash flow.

Curiously, Coach Wooden saw a difference between winning and success. He often remarked that it’s possible to be successful in the game yet lose. He reasoned that successfulness should be based upon each individual’s own internal scorecard.

During an interview one time I heard him remark that he even went so far as to create his own definition of success. It came from his childhood upbringing that you should not strive to be better than somebody else. Instead, you should strive to be the best that you can be.

So, Coach Wooden defined success as being, “the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you absolutely did the very best you are capable of.” Clearly, with that state of mind one could certainly lose a ballgame, but be very successful relative to your and your team’s capabilities.

In fact, during the same interview, I heard him say that he had won many games in his career, but did not feel successful relative to his own standard at the end of the game.

He often remarked that education was number one and stated that he wanted basketball players to come to UCLA for education first and basketball second. If you will look at the careers of most of the basketball players he taught during his tenure you will find significantly more dentists, accountants, teachers, lawyers, and doctors then you’ll find professional basketball players. He took great pride in that fact.

He often talked about the virtue of patience. He said that one has to do the things that are necessary to reach the goal the matter how long it takes. And, to focus on the road ahead and not the road behind.

These lessons are very applicable to us as business owners and leaders.

We need to determine in advance how we are going to measure our success. This determination should cover relatively long periods of time, say 1 to 5 to 10 years. Once we’ve got that clarity our mind’s eye, we also can take the action necessary to reach the objectives.

So, here’s the three steps you need to do.

  • First, forget about other people’s concept of what will make you successful.
  • Second, think about what your goals, initiatives and projects could to be for the upcoming year. Then, look your list over and start reducing everything down to a handful of things that when you complete them you will consider yourself successful—on your terms.
  • Then, once you have that short list clear, start taking the action right now necessary to make steady progress towards your standard of success.

Remember that the famous poet Cervantes once said, “the journey is far better than the end”.