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Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization? Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 2nd, 2020


True leadership is a virtue that many people desire. Questions have been raised on whether true leadership is inherent or can be made. Several thinkers have shared their thoughts on this matter. One particular interesting book, namely Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden, has a satisfying answer on what constitutes true leadership. The book promotes various ideas that helped John Wooden, the former UCLA Bruins coach, to lead his team through ten national championship victories. The discussion in this paper seeks to explain some of the main themes in Wooden’s book. The paper shows how they can be put in practical life. It construes that, indeed, Wooden’s leadership ideas are essential for an organization’s manager, especially in today’s competitive industries.


If one were allowed to describe John Wooden, he would grant him several titles. He is a proficient coach, a true leader, a role model, and a transfixing author whose books are admired around the world. One of his most compelling books is Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization. In this book, he presents what most people perceive to be inherent based on his true leadership. He champions excellent leadership concepts that can make a leader establish a successful organization if he or she puts them into practice. Unlike most leadership books that are highly studious, Wooden is more of a teacher who helps the reader to understand the concepts through the eyes of a coach. He picks almost every leadership style in the contemporary world and strives to compare it with daily coaching experiences. He then proceeds to explain how his coaching experiences relate to real-life organizational and personal issues. Thus, readers can easily learn the techniques of being the coach of their personal life or organizations. The discussion in this paper examines some of the main themes that are outlined in Wooden’s book. The goal is to show how they can be applied in the actual life or an organizational setting.

Major Management or Leadership Themes in Wooden’s Book

One of the major and outstanding leadership themes in Wooden’s book is love. Wooden considers loving the strongest word in the English language that leaders should exploit. He asserts that if people focus on what they intend to do for others, rather than what others can offer to them, the outcome of such a perception will be extremely positive. Leaders should regard their followers as part of their extended families. The value of a player is not directly influenced by the number of points he garners in a particular match. The essence of treating students/athletes as a family is because love endures in a proper family. Love must be portrayed in pertinent ways while enforcing discipline wherever necessary. According to him, love should be used as a platform for promoting misdemeanors (Wooden, 2005).

When he receives new players, Wooden tells them that he will treat them with equality, although this plan fades as time progresses. Some players are stubborn, while others are industrious. The latter group contributes impressively to the team. He later concludes that although it is impossible to treat people equally, it is possible to offer them the same amount of love. He strives to ignore his feelings when dealing with his student-athletes. This strategy helps him to discipline his players in the right way (Wooden, 2005).

Wooden demonstrates the belief that the smallest little deeds are far much better than the greatest intentions. No one is concerned with what others think until he or she shows it. Wooden goes further to insist on matters that do not even relate to his role as a coach. For instance, he insists that he will bail a player for breaching driving rules. Hence, as a leader, one must ensure that his or her followers exercise obedience to the organizational rules and guiding principles. This obedience should first exist in the heart before being transformed into actions. Nonetheless, this position does not imply that leaders should tolerate unfavorable habits that damage the welfare of a team or organization. Rather, leaders should only uphold habits that heighten the standards of their respective organizations (Singh, 2008).

Another theme that Wooden presents in his book is teamwork. Team members should feel that they are working in unity. According to him, the star of a team depicts the character of other team members. Hence, team members beginning with the leader should push their interest to the periphery in certain cases and be earnest to promote the welfare of the group. Joint effort improves the performance of a team because every team member gives his or her best to enhance the welfare of the team. Perfecting the art of teamwork is essential in ensuring that the team becomes stronger than the number of players. In the case of an organization, it can perform better than the available skills (Wooden, 2005).

Management and Leadership Concepts that relate to the Selected Themes

Regarding teamwork, Wooden upholds the managerial concept that the top managers or the coach should not be hesitant to seek the advice of his or her juniors. Leaders should realize that accepting different and sincere opinions from the team is progressive and not demeaning (Ryn, 2012). Cooperation exists only where the leader welcomes dissenting thoughts. Another leadership concept is that a good leader should be in a position to share ideas and responsibilities, accept blame, and offer credit where it is due. Wooden observes that in the basketball game, one of the most unappreciated acts is supporting a teammate to score. Such assistance symbolizes cooperation. Helping a fellow employee to perform his or her duty benefits the entire organization (Pignatelli, 2012).

Furthermore, Wooden (2005) asserts that it takes the entire team to score a basket. Wooden once had an experience with a player who was reluctant to share the ball with his teammates. Whenever he passed the ball, he would shout to the teammates to get back the ball. However, whenever he had it, he would keep it to himself for long. To teach the importance of sharing and teamwork, one day, Wooden asked the entire team to rest while the braggart faced the rival team alone. He could not win. In effect, it was a good way to teach the team the concept that everyone plays an imperative role in the team, even though some members seem to shine than others (Wooden, 2005).

In basketball, the ball is shared among the players before one finally scores. In an organization, the ball epitomizes the concept of knowledge and creativity. Sharing the ball involves communication. For the institution to score by achieving its agenda, there has to be efficient sharing of the ‘ball.’ Staff members who choose to withhold information or creativity that can help the organization to achieve its goals do not form good team players. Thus, they are not fit for their companies. The head and the team must have the interest of the group at hand. A leader can succeed in convincing the team members that they should maintain the ‘team-first’ in whatever they do in the company by showing them that their roles are important and that they form part of the pillars that keep the organization standing (Smith, 2013). Human resources participate differently in attaining institutional goals. All employees should feel respected by the top managers to the subordinate staff. This appreciation increases workers’ morale and enthusiasm (Pignatelli, 2012).

Wooden introduces the concept of acknowledging one’s teammates in his UCLA team. The scorer has to acknowledge the contribution of his teammates by winking or nodding the head. The team grows to understand the notion that they cannot do without the role of other players. A team is like a racecar. If one wheel is not functioning, the car remains stagnant. If the wheels are available, but the nuts are loose, the car will still be ineffective. Although a company may offer products that are highly demanded by consumers, if one department fails to play its role, the quality of the products will drop, followed by a reduction in demand (George, 2010).

As a leader, Wooden (2005) also says that one must earn confidence. Self-belief is developed through proper practices. After preparation, a leader and his team should have confidence, irrespective of any prospective challenge. Confidence does not arise synthetically. It develops from good practices that make leaders believe that they have done their best and that they are competent and prepared to face any challenge.

Nonetheless, this concept should not transform into egotism and conceit. If not controlled, confidence can transform into misleading beliefs that one can retain previous victories without hard work, love, and discipline. Despite his previous success, Wooden never went to a match, assuming triumph nor defeat. His nature of confidence was that his team was going to put into all that he had taught them during the preparation process. Wooden believed that every rival team was to be respected rather than being feared. After giving its best, a well-prepared team should have confidence in the results. The team is not supposed to worry about the level of competition but rather the quality of the preparation (Jacobsen, 2009).

According to Kuris (2010), an organization should always purpose to achieve goals and missions, irrespective of the external environment. The level of competition in the market should not deter an organization from introducing a product or service as long as it has utilized its entire potential. Most leaders have failed to progress their organization because they fear potential facing risks. A leader creates paths where other people have not attempted to create. Furthermore, despite the success of a company, leaders and staff members should not be drenched in pride and arrogance to the extent of forgetting to work hard to maintain their success in the industry. They should approach issues with a predetermined thought of winning or losing (Singh, 2008).

How Wooden’s Themes relate to Dubrin’s Principles of Leadership

Andrew Dubrin also champions similar leadership principles as espoused by Wooden. Dubrin notes that a good leader should be a team player. The characteristics of a team player comprise individuals who can show good personal conduct, work in unity with other groups in an organization, and cooperate with the juniors in implementing policies (Dubrin, 2011). Furthermore, the theme of love in Wooden’s book correlates with Dubrin’s notion that leadership should exist as a relationship. Wooden asserts that one should consider his team/followers as a comprehensive family unit where love takes center stage. Similarly, Dubrin claims that leaders should operate as a relationship where one considers the opinion of his or her team members. Leadership should not be dictatorial, where one only considers his interests (Jacobsen, 2009).

Moreover, when showing the difference between a leader and a manager, Dubrin notes that while a manager is structured, a leader is courageous. Confidence is of great essence for a leader who wishes to prosper. If a leader is not confident in whatever he does, his or her low self-esteem will trickle down to the other employees. Dubrin presents a leader as a coach and motivator of his or her team members. If a potential leader applies Dubrin and Wooden’s leadership and managerial virtues, he or she can become an effective leader (Dubrin, 2011).

How Wooden’s Leadership Themes can benefit my Professional Work

The themes of confidence, love, and teamwork can greatly benefit my organization. I run a private high school that faces fierce competition from other surrounding schools, which have recorded good academic performance in the past decade. Wooden’s virtues will help me to run the school as an extended family. Treating members of staff and students with care will be one of the ways of showing love. Love must be portrayed appropriately, including disciplining others where necessary. Interacting with students will be of great importance to know where their problems lie (Gordon & Berry, 2006).

Moreover, teamwork will help in improving the performance of the institution. As Wooden (2005) asserts, no one should be seen as the star in the organization. Every member of staff, as well as the students, should be appreciated for the role they play in the institution. I will strive to impart the teamwork spirit to them to improve the welfare of the organization. I will uphold the concept of sharing information and knowledge that teachers and students believe can enhance the performance of the school (Ryn, 2012). Lack of confidence can discourage teachers and students from utilizing their potential because they will fear being defeated by other institutions. Students must be advised that they can also achieve academic prowess as other schools, but only if they are committed to hardworking and respecting their competitors, rather than fearing them. Confidence will give them (students) the motivation to focus and work harder than anticipated, as espoused by Gordon and Berry (2006).


John Wooden will remain a legendary coach and a gripping author for several prospective years. His lessons on leadership are easily applicable in the day-to-day running and management of organizations. They can help people to become true leaders. Through some of his major themes, namely love, confidence, and teamwork, a leader can establish a successful organization. The author’s clear examples of his life as a coach, which he compares with people’s daily life occurrences, enable readers to associate and apply them in their leadership positions.

Reference List

Dubrin, J. (2011). Principles of Leadership. Canada: Cengage Learning.

George, B. (2010). True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Gordon, C., & Berry, J. (2006). From Old Leadership to Essential Leadership. New York, NY: Yale University Press.

Jacobsen, O. (2009). The Three Tasks of Leadership: Worldly Wisdom for Pastoral Leaders. London: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Kuris, M. (2010). Acceptance of The Clark P. Read Mentor Award: John Wooden Informs the Academic Family. The Journal of Parasitology, 96(6), 1044-1047.

Pignatelli, F. (2012). Staying True?: Progressive Leadership in Tough Times. Schools: Studies in Education, 9(2), 176-187.

Ryn, G. (2012). Democracy and the Ethical Life. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Singh, J. (2008). Impostors Masquerading as Leaders: Can the Contagion Be Contained? Journal of Business Ethics, 82(3), 733-745.

Smith, M. (2013). From The Sons of Westwood. Illinois, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Wooden, J. (2005). Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization. California, CA: McGraw-Hill Professional.

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