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Do you think it is possible to be nice and also to get stuff done?  To be kind and effective?  What kind of leader can master this balancing act?

Servant Leadership

In The Servant Leader, Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges define Servant Leadership this way:  “Servant leadership starts with a vision and ends with a servant heart that helps people live according to that vision.”  I have also heard it said described as a king with the heart of a servant.  Jesus gave us this upside down version example of leadership by washing his disciples’ feet, so I am always looking for leaders who follow in His pattern.

Coach John Wooden

It is hard to find a better example of servant leadership than this man.  John Wooden coached the UCLA Bruin Basketball team from 1948 to 1975.  Two of his quotes that exemplify his attitude towards Servant Leadership are:

“Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the result.”

“An effective leader is very good at listening. It’s difficult to listen when you are talking.”

I won’t try to create a biography of John Wooden in 500 words or less, but I would like to connect you to some good resources.  I have gained a lot of respect for John Wooden as I have read his quotes and heard his players tell stories about him.  What jumps out the most is that he combined two seemingly contradictory factors:

  1.  Niceness
  2. Effectiveness

Nice or Effective – Pick One?

I have noticed that people who are nice are sometimes too nice to make the tough decisions and to stand up to bullies and to hold people accountable for results.  On the other end of the spectrum, I have noticed that some people who get things done are sometimes not very pleasant to be around.  And sometimes they are ruthless or downright mean. (Think Michael Jordan or Survivor or most politicians we see on TV.)

What inspires me most about John Wooden is that he was both.


By most accounts, he was a kind, soft-spoken Midwestern boy.  He didn’t swear, didn’t cheat, hardly ever raised his voice.  Although he grew up in Indiana, he was the polar opposite of Bobby Knight!

To give you an idea of what kind of person he was, here is his 7-point creed:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3.  Help others.
  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 give thanks for your blessings every day.

Git -r- Done!

However, the meme that “Nice guys finish last” did not apply to this nice guy.  Coach Wooden was not a softie!  He demanded results, and his teams delivered.  In fact, his teams won 10 NCAA championships in his last 12 years of coaching, including 7 in a row.  During this time they had at one point won 88 games in a row!  That is an amazing record of effectiveness.  He got stuff done!  He was effective.

Not Just For Basketball

I have leadership duties at home, at work, and at church.  Coach Wooden inspires me to take on those responsibilities with decency and care. To treat people right.  He also inspires me to focus on excellence and results.  To get things done.

Coach John Wooden had the amazing ability to be both nice and effective. Does he inspire you the way he inspires me?  What does he inspire you to do?

More resources here:

Pyramid of Success

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