Friday, April 28, 2017

Lessons in Leadership - Part 1


A long hiatus doesn't even begin to describe how long it has been since I last wrote anything meaningful. I have kept this series in draft version for a while, with the intention to clean it up before publishing. 

However, I have decided to take a different approach. The lessons that I am about to share are relevant now. Let's just treat it as a work in progress and I will polish it from time and again as I see fit.

This series is targeted at new and mid-level managers who want to make the next leap in their career in the corporate sector. 


Over the last 9 months, I sort of chanced upon a journey on leadership. The organization that I work in nominated me as one of the 40-odd people to participate in a course called "Harvard Business Leadership". One of the first "lessons" I learnt in that course is that: ALL models are wrong. Some are useful.

On the surface, it seems like a joke, but on a deeper level, it taught me two very important lessons about myself.

1. I have a strong tendency to rely on models and frameworks in the things that I do.

This is not because I am a robot (which I am). I rely on models and frameworks because they allow me to predict a likely future. Yes, I get my predictions wrong a lot of the time, but I also get them right just often enough to make them useful. For example, I rely greatly on the Myers-Briggs personality categories in my daily interactions with people. It helps me identify why people do the things that they do, and how I can respond accordingly to suit their personality. The trouble with models is that I need to know when to use which model. Because I have actually been relying on models and frameworks all my life, I just seem to know when to apply them intuitively.

2. I NEED to make use of my strength in viewing things in models and frameworks.

I was reminded by one of the things that was said by Brendon Burchard: Frameworks allow people to REPEAT success. While I seem to be an expert at frameworks, I have only been using it for myself. My wife frequently asks me to share my views on many things in life, because of how I can simplify very complex issues into models or frameworks that makes things easy to understand. That is why I started work on this series on Leadership.

The work below is definitely not my own. They are just notes that I have extracted from the book "Coach Wooden's Leadership Game Plan for Success: 12 Lessons for Extraordinary Performance and Personal Excellence".

The crux of the book is centered around Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success. As the name suggests, the Pyramid of Success contains qualities and attributes that are built from the ground up, with the base of the pyramid serving as the foundation for success, building all the way up to the apex of the pyramid.

But before we can dive into the pyramid itself, we must first start with the right ethics and attitude. As with all powerful tools, using them in the right way is essential to create a positive impact in the world. That is why the book starts off with ensuring that all leaders must start from the right intention.

Ethics and Attitude

Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. Character is more important.
I am not what I ought to be, Not what I want to be, Not what I am going to be, But I’m thankful that I am better than I used to be.
Throughout the book, Coach Wooden emphasizes progress over perfection. The key focus to be successful should be on continuous and sustainable improvement.

The Ground Rules for Success

Coach Wooden repeats the mantra set out by his father, which is just a simple 2 sets of threes. Simple, but not easy to live up to.

1. Never lie
2. Never cheat
3. Never steal

1. Don't whine
2. Don't complain
3. Don't make excuses

If what it takes to be successful can be summed up into 2 sentences, it would be below
1. Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to stay there.
2. There are no "big" things, only an accumulation of little things done well.

The Pyramid of Success.

Before we can even talk about what it takes to succeed, we must first define success. And I really like how Coach Wooden defines success:
I don't care how tall you are.
I care how tall you play.
Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Success is totally under your own control. No one can give it to you; no one can take it away. No one except you.

Don’t judge yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you could have accomplished given your ability.

First Tier

1. Industriousness

There is no trick, no easy way. Success travels in the company of very hard work. 
The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Industriousness meant true work at your highest capacity; fully engaged, totally focused, and completely absorbed; no clock-watching, no punching in and out, no going through the motions. 

2. Enthusiasm

Work without "Enthusiasm" is just work. "Just work" is not enough.

As a leader, you must be filled with energy and eagerness, joy and love for what you do. If you lack enthusiasm for your job, you cannot perform to the best of your ability. Industriousness is unattainable without enthusiasm. 

"Working Together" Blocks:
3. Friendship

The time to make friends is before you need them. Camaraderie is a spirit of great goodwill that can exist between a leader and member of the team. 

To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, “You destroy your adversary when you make him your friend.” 

4. Loyalty
There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone,
All that we send out to others,
Comes back into our own.
- Edwin Markham
Give loyalty and loyalty will be returned in abundance. First, be true to yourself and your beliefs. Second, be true to your team.

5. Cooperation

Make sure the people you lead feel they're working with you, not for you. Have the utmost concern for what's right rather than who's right. 

It is often difficult for a strong-willed leader to incorporate Cooperation because listening to others, evaluating, and embracing their opinions and creativity may seem to suggest uncertainty and doubt about your own judgment and convictions. The ego gets in the way of your eyes and ears. It’s easy to get lost in your own tunnel vision.

A strong and secure leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak insecure leader gives blame and takes credit.

Second Tier

6. Self-control

If you do your best, never lose your temper, and never be out-fought, out-hustled, you'll have nothing to worry about.

Control of your organization begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined.

Self-control is necessary in all areas. The choices you make in your personal life affect your professional life. They are not separate. A leader who lacks self-control outside the organization may lack it within the organization.

It starts with control of your emotions, but it extends to having the resolve to resist the easy choice, the expedient solution, and, at times, temptation in all its alluring forms. 

7. Alertness

Nothing is static. Expect each day to bring new threat and opportunity. Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team. 

Never be a spectator. Be in the fight at all times. A leader who is sluggish in recognizing what's going on will soon be going on without a job. 

Perfection doesn't exist. Thus, actively be alert and looking for imperfections in your team and your competition. It is there. Find it. 

8. Initiative

Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.

Having the courage to make decisions and the willingness to risk failure. A team that won't risk mistakes won't win many games. 

The team that makes the most mistakes wins. 

Hesitancy brought on by fear of failure is not a characteristic of great leadership. Play to win rather than "not to lose". Do not be afraid to fail. Use good judgment and then use initiative. The leader who fears failure will often fail to act when action is required.

9. Intentness

It's not who starts the game, but who finishes it. 

Stay the course. When thwarted, try again - harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly. 

Never be satisfied. Work constantly to improve. Perfection is a goal that can never be reached, but it must be the objective. The uphill climb is slow, but the downhill road is fast. 

Good things take time, usually lots of time. Achieving worthwhile goals requires Intentness. There are setbacks, losses, unexpected reversals, hardships and bad luck. Does the fight continue? The team looks to you for their answer. The answer is Intentness. 

Industriousness and Enthusiasm are a powerful combination essential to Success. But the great force they produce must be constant and ongoing. Things achieved without effort are seldom worthwhile or long-lasting. 

Third Tier

10. Condition

What you do away from practice can tear down all we accomplished during practice. 

Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there; mental, moral and physical. 

Practice balance and moderation in all that you do. 
"All we've worked so hard to accomplish on the court today can be torn down quickly, in a matter of minutes, if you make the wrong choices between now and our next practice."
Be concerned with your preparation, not theirs; your effort and desire, not theirs. Don't worry about them. Let them worry about you. 

A leader who lacks physical condition is less likely to summon the mental strength to stand up and fight for beliefs and convictions. 

What you do off the job is directly related to how well you do on the job. 

11. Skill

When you are through learning, you are through. 

What a leader learns after having learned it all counts most of all. 

Know your job and be able to do it quickly and correctly. Knowledge of and the ability to execute your responsibilities will separate you from most of the competition. This means being prepared to do all that your job requires.

Push yourself to keep learning or you will stay as close to the bottom as to the top.

Whether in basketball or in business, you must be able to “get open” and “shoot.” One without the other makes you a partial performer: one who can be replaced because your skills are incomplete; one whose leadership falls short because of your own limitations when it comes to knowing your job.

You must also be fully aware that mastery is a lifelong process of learning. The best leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.

Knowing what you’re supposed to do means little if you don’t have the Skill to do it.

12. Team Spirit

Initial definition:
Team Spirit is the willingness to lose oneself in the group for the good of the group. 

But... a "willingness" to be selfless does not satisfy the requirements. It suggests begrudgingly doing what is required for the team's welfare. 

New Definition:
Team Spirit is the eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the welfare of the group - is a tangible living force that transforms individuals who are "doing their jobs willingly" into an organization whose members are dedicated and eager to work at their highest level for the good of the group. 

The star of your team is the team. 

"We" supersedes "me".

Fourth Tier: Getting to the top: Trademarks of Greatness

13. Poise:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same...
- Rudyard Kipling
Just be yourself. Don't be rattled by events, whether good or bad. 

Hold true to your belief that what counts most are your own high standards and making the effort to do the best of which you are capable regardless of how bad or good, the situation may be. 

Poise means being true to yourself even if it goes against popular sentiment, even if you must stand alone. 

How do you acquire Poise? In fact, you don’t. Poise acquires you. It is part of the harvest you reap near the top of the Pyramid. Suddenly it is there, part of you and your leadership style and substance: Poise. It also becomes the style and substance of your organization.

Have respect for, without fear of, every opponent, and confidence without cockiness in regard to yourself. 

14. Confidence

You must earn the right to be confident, the kind of confidence that comes from proper preparation

Confidence cannot be grafted on artificially. Real abiding Confidence, like Poise, is earned only by tenaciously attaining those assets that allow you to reach your own level of competency.
Beyond the winning and the goal,
beyond the glory and the fame,
He feels the flame within his soul,
born of the spirit of the game.
And where the barriers may wait,
built up by the opposing Gods,
He finds a thrill in bucking fate
and riding down the endless odds.
Where others wither in the fire
or fall below some raw mishap.
Where others lag behind or tire
and break beneath the handicap,
He finds a new and deeper thrill
to take him on the uphill spin,
Because the test is greater still,
and something he can revel in.

- Grantland Rice from
“The Great Competitor”
Fifth Tier

15. Competitive Greatness

A goal beyond victory, a standard above winning.

Competitive Greatness: Performing at your best when your best is needed; a real love for the hard battle. 

Competitive Greatness exists in the journey and culminates in the tough competitive fight in which you and your organization are at your best because you’ve prepared to the full extent of your abilities.

When you define success as John Wooden does, the only thing to fear is your own unwillingness to make the effort - 100 percent - to achieve your potential in leadership and teach those on your team how to achieve Competitive Greatness as an organization.

Personal greatness is not determined by the size of the job, but by the size of the effort that one puts into the job. This applies to everyone on your team.

16 and 17: Faith and Patience: Symbolic Mortar

A leader must have Faith that things will work out as they should - a boundless belief in the future. 

A wise leader also knows that good things take time. If difficult goals could be achieved quickly, more people would be achievers. But most people - many leaders - lack Patience. 

Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details. 

Success may result in winning, but winning does not necessarily make you a success. Success, as I define it, is harder to achieve.

The above are pretty much quips and quotes scattered throughout the very user-friendly book written by Coach Wooden and Steve Jamison. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety for budding and mid-level managers in the corporate sector. I would even encourage sharing the book with the rest of your team as it will definitely set the direction for your department and team culture.

In the next part, I will start diving into the 12 Lessons in Leadership that Coach Wooden has to share.

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