Wooden Wisdom for the Ages

achievement, Education, leadership, virtue

John Wooden is a paradox in the sports world!  In many ways, more dominant and legendary than Michael Jordan and still he maintained a level of sincerity and humility unlike any coach/athlete I know of.  He stands alone in the record books atop a mountain of wins which culminated with ten National Championships in twelve years.  His list of accomplishments, including being the only man elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, is a mile long.  Yet, in the midst of all the accolades and success he has remained true to himself.  John is first as a teacher of men, a builder of character and the most powerful lesson he offers is example.

Author Steven Jamison described Coach Wooden as “pure of heart, modest, trusting, humble, understated, serene, without pretense or hidden agenda, sincere, straightforward, intelligent, quick, confident, and filled with such a profound decency and tremendous inner strength that it is humbling.”  Jamison wrote books with Wooden and was in absolute awe of the man.  In their book, Wooden, A Life Time of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court, Jamison penned the following poem.


True North

Our Ships are tossed

Across the night,

Our Compass cracked,

For Wrong or right.

True North is there,

Or over here?

Confusion rules

Our sea is fear.

Then suddenly a beacon bright

Is shining through

This stormy night.

It’s pure and straight

To his true course.

The coach is seen.

He is True North.


In the sea of turmoil we call life, Jamison was deeply affected by this man he came to know.  Wooden always turned away from this kind of direct attention, but Jamison just wrote what he observed and what others felt.  Coach Wooden first desired to teach his players how to live right and second how to play basketball.   So just how did Wooden represent true north for so many?  It came about as a decision to valiantly follow the lifetime creed his father passed on to him on a hand written card at John’s graduation from grade school.


On one side of the card was a verse by Henry Van Dyke:

Four things a man must learn to do

If he would make his life more true:

To think without confusion clearly,

To love his fellow-man sincerely,

To act from honest motives purely,

To trust in God and Heaven securely.


On the other side it read “Seven Things to Do.”

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Help others.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.

His father’s simple sermon that day was, “Son, try to live up to these things.” John Wooden carried that actual card with him throughout his life and he endeavored to do exactly that.  His life offers evidence that the sermon is true.  Can you imagine a world where politicians, business leaders, coaches and parents followed this model of the man they call, “Coach.”  That’s a world I get excited about!

So allow me to keep the final thought as simple as the original, “try to live up to these things.”

Take a Stand

attitude, character, communism, Constitution, freedom, leadership, Podcast, Success, supreme court, trust, virtue

Podcast # 19   On Taking A Stand

Learn how holding fast to your character leads to greater opportunity in this podcast!

Throughout history there are those who boldly plant themselves in the critics path to defend just principles. The strength of their character preserves freedom and justice for all.  Listen to this inspiring story of one in our modern era who did just that.  He represents the thousands of others who, in pivotal moments, put adulation, power and even popularity aside to protect the principles that set us free.   Enjoy this powerful podcast about James Donovan!

Want More Energy? Keep it Positive!

association, attitude, freedom, leadership, Optimism, positive mental outlook

Have you ever interacted with a person who left you amused, baffled, frustrated or down right angry?  If you get out of the house much I know you have.  And if you are anything like me you’ve probably laughed some of it off, told some of them off or complained about one or two of them to a co-worker, spouse or friend.  Now certainly we all need a way to relieve the pressure that builds in dealing with interesting folks (if you know what I mean), but how we vent the inevitable buildup can mean the difference between failure and success on any given day.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.”  Now wait a minute, surely Mr. Franklin didn’t intend that to apply to your hard-nosed boss or the “moron” who cut you off in traffic.  And certainly he wasn’t referring to the unpatriotic pessimist who told you he’s fleeing the country to live life out on a beach.  It can’t possibly apply to your in-laws and their unsolicited advice—or maybe it does. While venting can ease immediate frustration, perhaps Mr. Franklin was also giving a sound formula for managing attitude and effort on a daily basis.

According to Dr. David Schwartz, author of the Magic of Thinking Big, we are a product of our environment; he is referring more to our psychological environment than our physical one. Wow! If that is even partially true, how long should we remain in the “moron’s” psychological environment?  It makes me wonder if dwelling on or gossiping about them perpetuates the environment?

Some of the most successful men in American History were Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.  They accomplished nearly super-human feats with what appeared to be boundless energy.  Perhaps not so coincidentally both created mechanisms to improve their psychological state.  Among these were affirmations that encouraged them to avoid gossip in all its forms. Many of Franklin’s 13 virtues, that he systematically attempted to master throughout his life, dealt with creating a positive encouraging environment in all human interaction.  Washington followed a pamphlet called the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation to help him develop a sincere demeanor in both professional and personal interactions.  In it he learned to: “1. Sleep not when others speak… speak not when you should hold your peace…; 6. Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy; 9. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ‘tis a sign of tractable …nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern;  13. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.”
Often I think in our fast paced, technologically advanced society we discount these age old rules of civility, but today books like How to Win Friends and Influence People have repackaged these concepts, concepts that go well before Washington’s time.  So let me conclude with this piece of wisdom that goes back some 2500 years.  Perhaps you’ve even read this Aesop Fable to your kids:

A Farmer placed nets on his newly-sown plow lands and caught a number of Cranes, which came to pick up his seed.  With them he trapped a Stork that had fractured his leg in the net and was earnestly beseeching the farmer to spare his life.  “Pray save me, Master,” he said, “and let me go free this once. My broken limb should excite your pity.  Besides, I am no Crane, I am a Stork, a bird of excellent character; and see how I love and slave for my father and mother. Look too, at my feathers—they are not the least like those of a Crane.” The Farmer laughed aloud and said, “It may be all as you say, I only know this: I have taken you with these robbers, the Cranes, and you must die in their company.”


The moral: “Birds of a Feather Flock Together”


The next time we need to blow off a little steam let us pause to think about who we are about to psychologically “flock together with.”  For whether we see ourselves as one of them or not doesn’t change the fact that our minds are still caught up in the very same net. So if for no other reason at first than to preserve our own energy stay clear of the net of gossip and negativity so that our minds and activities can focus on freedom and productivity in all its forms.

“Mighty Man of Valor” – An Illustration of the Leadership Cycle

leadership, supreme court, virtue

**Warning** this post is controversial, controversial because it draws upon the Bible to illustrate the leadership cycle.  Some readers may applaud the decision to use the Bible, some might be offended and others are unsure what to think because extreme interpretations of Supreme Court Cases in the US and cultural trends throughout the world have all but pushed the Bible completely out of public conversation and public education. The result—generations of people raised to believe that discussions and/or study of the Bible is too religious, too passé, too unsophisticated or too controversial to discuss in public settings.  But I challenge you to look past that and consider what John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, had to say about the Bible, “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Utopia – what a Paradise would this region be! (1)”  Now that bold statement from a highly influential person in history should at least spark curiosity to investigate its contents.  So whether you believe the Bible to be the word or God or not, let’s see if we can at least learn some “Utopian” principles right now from its pages.

Around 1200 B.C., Ancient Israel, a real nation, was cycling in and out of captivity without the rule of a definitive unifying monarch or theocrat. Around this time the Midianites had overrun the land “like grasshoppers” the Bible says and they were consuming everything in their path. In fear, the Israelites headed for the hills and dwelt in caves barely subsisting for seven years. Under these conditions they humbled themselves and cried out to the Lord for relief. They were then reminded that the Lord their God delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians and gave them a choice land, but that it was their complacency and errant ways that caused them to lose their freedoms. Under these humbling circumstances God called an unlikely hero named Gideon who at the time was actually hiding from the Midianites in order to prepare wheat to feed his family. While thus engaged, a man who turns out to be an angel converses with him calling him “a mighty man of valor” who is to go in “your strength” to save Israel from Bondage. Gideon, lacking self-confidence, immediately responded, “Me? I come from the smallest and weakest tribe in Israel and am the most insignificant person in my family.” He must have thought, “I know God has delivered us in the past, but that was another time and place and under some other leader who was surely better than me (Judges Ch. 6).”

In spite of self doubt, he did take action to complete the Angel’s first request to cut down the alter and sanctuary his people had built up to the false gods of their oppressors and instead make an offering to the God of Israel. This he immediately did, but under the cover of darkness because he feared the backlash of the people who indeed demanded his life for doing so. In short, his boldness in running against the status quo inspired other boldness which not only saved his life but got the people to think differently and rise up and fight for their freedom. Still doubting his ability to lead Israel to victory, Gideon asked God to strengthen his faith through two supernatural requests and God patiently complied.

Gideon, having acted boldly and being bolstered by faith building experiences then is commanded to cut the military force that gathered around him. He invites all who are “fearful” to go home and over two thirds of his 32,000 troops depart. Still the Lord says there are too many and so a selection criterion is given and only 300 men pass this test. Now these 300 alert, courageous and faith-filled men join Gideon in a march to the camp of the Midianite hosts that had gathered for battle. Following meticulous instructions, they execute the plan with exactness ending with a blast of their trumpets and a fearful battle cry of “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Waking to this sound and the sight of torches on all sides, a fearful Midianite camp panics and turns on each other in chaotic retreat. At the sight of this, the rest of Israel joins in the pursuit and destroys their former oppressors, placing Gideon in judgment over Israel to enjoy peace and prosperity for a season.

In studying the way the founders of America looked for knowledge in their readings, including the Bible, I began to see lessons in leadership in this story that I had missed before. Let’s quickly review the story through a leadership lens. First, leadership usually arises in answer to a crisis or challenge. Your own leadership will emerge only when you can solve your own challenges and those of your constituents. Second, a leader will suffer from self- doubt, pointing out their inherent weaknesses just like Gideon did. Third, a vision of who you can be must be established. If you don’t have an angel to declare you “a mighty man [or woman] of valor”, then look to a friend, a mentor, inspiration or your own personal affirmation statements to see your potential more clearly. Fourth, a leader takes bold action even if the crowd is going in a different direction. In this case, Israel was blindly worshiping the idols of their captors. Fifth, when self-doubt inevitably comes, seek inspiration through books, association, scripture, prayer, motivational audios and videos, etc. Sixth, work with the faithful not the fearful and let your combined victories inspire the masses. Seventh, create a plan and execute it with precision as a team and the results will astound you.

Certainly this story in the Bible is fantastic. One who does not believe it to be the word of God may discount it and miss the underlying messages left there for us to discover today. Only you can discover for yourself if the Bible is divinely inspired, but if the verdict is still out or not for you, either way I invite you to take a closer look in order to discover the principles of freedom and leadership that abound therein. The founders of America used the Bible as their principle reference in framing a great nation that unleashed unprecedented freedom—how will you use it and other great books in your fight for wider freedom, prosperity and justice for all?

1. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756