The Cycle of Self-Improvement starts with your behaviour. We start by doing our best to act in the same way that we d imagine a great manager would act. We research, and we apply what we ve learned to what we do and how we do it. Or, to put it another way, we fake it until we make it. This is difficult at first, because we re trying to be something that we don t necessarily understand The good news is that this is something you used to do all the time. You’ve just forgotten how to do it.
How Children Start To Learn
When we were small children, starting at pre-school age, we all played a lot. We used our imaginations to play games like Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, and many others. We sure had a lot of fun, and we also learned a lot from it. Children play games as a way to explore new ideas and roles. The more they explore, the more sophisticated their ideas in this area become. Eventually, those who remember their dreams and work hard go on to play these roles for real as adults. But most of us do not.
As we grow older we get a bit more serious, and playing games (especially in the workplace) no longer seems appropriate to us. We exchange learning through playing for learning through doing, with a sprinkling of training and education thrown in for good measure. Most of our doing as adults comes through holding down a job to pay the bills, and it becomes the environment where we find most of our opportunities to learn.
On the job training has become something of a dirty term in the workplace today, because it’s normally a euphemism for being thrown in at the deep end with insufficient / non-existent help and support. The reason for the lack of support is simply that many employers and managers don’t know how to instruct and coach their staff. It is something that they have no interest in, and are not comfortable doing. But they should have such an interest, because the irony is that the workplace is the best place to learn work-related skills – provided we are able to play before we have to be. ((I will talk about the relative merits of training courses in a later article.))
All play starts with behaviours – actions and attitudes that we show to others (externalise). The game we are playing is how to manage yourself. If you’re on your own, where can you look for help and advice?
Turn To The Coach
In this field, the work of John C. Wooden stands head and shoulders above everything else. John C. Wooden was the head coach of the UCLA college basketball team from 1948 to 1975, where he not only consistently created great teams, but where he consistently got the very best out of his charges. His outstanding work was honoured in 1999 when Coach Wooden was voted ‘Coach of the 20th Century’ by ESPN, and by the award of the President Medal of Freedom (the USA’s highest civilian honour) in 2003.
During his time in basketball, Coach Wooden developed his Pyramid of Success. It has three key ingredients that make it a great approach for learning how to manage yourself.
- It is principle-based, not practice based – created decades before management books and coaching understood this fundamental approach. Practices come and go, but the right principles are timeless, and can last for thousands of years.
- It has stood the test of time. Created over 50 years ago, it was honed through Coach Wooden’s teaching to his college students and teams. His students took the Pyramid out into the wider world of sports and business, and made it the foundation of their success too. And since 2003, the management community at large has been able to learn about and apply Coach Wooden’s work through his book Wooden on Leadership.
- It is about you, not about others. In a time of short-termism, downsizing, offshoring and the threat of recession, it can be no surprise that management writing has come to focus so strongly on the here and now. All sports coaches are in one of the ultimate results-driven environment; they need immediate results far more than your average manager does, and they have to contend with a turnover of staff (in their case, players) that your average manager never has to face. But Coach Wooden and his record of coaching at UCLA proved beyond all doubt that, even in such an environment, both short-term results and long-term success comes from within, from internal work that at first seems both unnecessary and without immediate reward. Success comes from within you the manager, and it must be instilled within each and every member of your team.
The Pyramid of Success
Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success contains 15 separate building blocks for you to work on. Along the bottom are the five foundation blocks that leadership is build upon.
- Industriousness: Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way.
- Friendship: Strive to build a team filled with camaraderie and respect: comrades-in-arms.
- Loyalty: Be true to yourself. Be true to those you lead.
- Co-operation: Have utmost concern for what’s right rather than who’s right.
- Enthusiasm: Your energy and enjoyment, drive and dedication will stimulate and greatly inspire others.
If the foundation layer is about your heart, then the next layer is all about using your head.
- Self-control: Control of your organisation begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined.
- Alertness: Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team.
- Initiative: Make a decision! Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
- Intentness: Stay the course. When thwarted try again; harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly.
At the heart of the Pyramid is the formula for teaching success that Coach Wooden learned from Coach Ward Lambert during his playing career.
- Condition: Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there – mental, moral and physical.
- Skill: What a leader learns after you’ve learned it all is what counts most of all.
- Team Spirit: The star of the team is the team. ‘We’ supersedes ‘me’.
The first twelve blocks together create a platform for success, but to elevate yourself to achieve your full potential, you have to master the cornerstones of true greatness.
- Poise: Be yourself. Don’t be thrown off by events whether good or bad.
- Confidence: The strongest steel is well-founded self-belief. It is earned, not given.
Finally, we reach the very pinnacle of the Pyramid of Success – the behaviour that the rest of the pyramid supports:
- Competitive Greatness: Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.
There is far more to Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success than I can do justice to in this article, and I would much rather you learned more about it from Coach Wooden himself. You can download a printable version of the Pyramid, and learn more about each of these building blocks from Coach Wooden’s website. His 2003 book, Wooden on Leadership, expands on them still further, and is essential reading for anyone looking to follow the Invest In Loss philosophy.
Coach Wooden used it to build a great basketball coach; you can use it to build a great manager – yourself.