Meet with Randy!

An Afternoon with John Wooden

As most of you know, John Wooden, the legendary coach at UCLA, died a few years ago at the age of 99. He is widely considered the greatest coach in basketball history – some would argue, in the history of all sports. His team won 10 national championships in a 12-year span. A few years ago, I had the amazing privilege to spend an afternoon with the coach.

Here’s the context… once a year, Chick-fil-A hosts a Seminar for our organization, and I serve on the team responsible for the programming. We were delighted when we were able to secure Coach Wooden to speak at our event. As is our practice, we invest one-on-one time with our keynote speakers to help them understand our organization and the objective for the meeting.
On this day, Tim Tassapolous and I were invited to the coach’s home in west Los Angeles. We were joined there by the gentleman who arranged the visit. Coach Wooden was 96 at the time.
We met at a condo the coach and his wife, Nell, had purchased in the 1970’s. The place was decorated just as you would expect of a modest home in the 70’s. The décor had not been updated. However, there had been some additions over the years. The two-bedroom home was now full of books. Everywhere you looked – books. It was clear Wooden was still a learner!
The other thing you might notice in this unassuming place were the plaques and trophies. Not displayed as you might expect, but randomly placed here and there. Their lack of prominence was indicative of the priority Wooden placed on them. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was not in a frame hanging over the mantle, it was draped across an object on a random piece of furniture the way a 3rd grader would display a 4th place track & field ribbon. No pretense.
This lack of pretense continued as we began our conversation with the coach. He was focused, interested and inquisitive about our organization. We were there to brief him, and we did, but we got in a few questions along the way. One was about his relationship with his players. He told us about the number of players that had chosen to stay in touch. Some called him virtually every day! Forty years after he coached them – they still called.
What was it that created such loyalty, respect and love? Entire books have been written on Coach Wooden; many of them shed light on the answer to that question. But for me, I’m guessing, having spent only a few hours with the man, the answer is rooted in his selflessness.
Our conversation that afternoon could have easily been about the coach – selfishly, I wish it had been. But he insisted we stay on task. He wanted to learn about us. He wanted to serve us. He wanted to serve Chick-fil-A. I’m guessing he had the same focus on serving others his entire life.
As we were leaving, Tim and I had a deep sense we had been in the presence of greatness that afternoon. We didn’t have pages of notes, but we had seen servant leadership modeled for us in its purest form. I was reminded again that day, the great leaders always want to serve others.
As we drove away, I looked back and the coach was standing at the window, waving goodbye. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.[GLS_Shield]
 
 

Leave a comment



Quinton Schwengel

8 years ago

Mark, thanks for such a great example of selfless servanthood. It has challenged me to continually redirect my leadership focus toward others, through service. The idea of being a servant leader has crossed my eyes and ears many times. It is beginning to change the way I look at others. The application though, is a daily, focused challenge. It is not natural. Thanks for your example and your challenge.

mark

8 years ago

Quinton, thanks for your comment! Make no mistake, servant leadership is not easy… however, it is worth the energy and effort. Please continue to share your insights, observations and questions. I’m on the journey with you!
Mark

Joseph Iliff (@SeekOutWisdom)

8 years ago

Mark, that afternoon sounds like quite a blessing. Indeed, I think Coach Wooden modeled for you and all of us a powerful lesson about the power of a servant’s heart. Many people with his record of accomplishments could have dictated to you how things were to be conducted, and not given much importance to you and your organization’s unique qualities. His desire to learn from you and to put your organizations needs ahead of his own convenience is a reminder to us all that we lead and grow by serving. And that no record of accomplishment in our past obviates our need to do so.

A Lesson in Selflessness from Coach John Wooden | Chaplains Connect

8 years ago

[…] recently read this on the Great Leaders Serve blog about a meeting that took place with John Wooden in his […]

A Lesson in Selflessness from Coach John Wooden | Sports Chaplains Network

8 years ago

[…] recently read this on the Great Leaders Serve blog about a meeting that took place with John Wooden in his […]

InteGREAT_Logos_D_1C_WHITE-1

Copyright © 2020 Integreat Leadership. All rights reserved