Wooden on Leadership -- 10 Book Report

Excerpt from Book Report :

Possibly the reason this particular principle comes across as counterintuitive in the first place is precisely that it so often not the case at all. Few sports teams are devoid of internal factions or "cliques" and of antagonistic relationships among certain individuals who do not necessarily like one another. This is also true of members of coaching staffs. In business, it is more likely rare than common that all members of a successful team necessarily like one another. Therefore, this conclusion of Wooden's may be among the least supportable and the most dependent on conjecture, personal experience, and contrary to many counterexamples in sports and in business.

2. Enthusiasm -- Wooden maintains that individuals in positions of leadership must be highly motivated and that they must also be positive types of people. This seems counterintuitive because so many successful leaders in sports and in business are actually negative people who thrive on intimidation and, at least as much on the fear of failure that they cultivate as on any positive encouragement. It may be true that successful leaders tend to be enthusiastic; but that enthusiasm is not necessarily what Wooden has in mind. Wooden refers to enthusiasm in the sense that leaders should inspire their followers. In fact, many successful leaders represent only enthusiasm for their goals or for the success of their teams but not necessarily enthusiasm in terms of positively motivating and encouraging individuals.

3. Self-Control -- This principle is another example of Wooden "cherry picking" specific examples that support his conclusions while unscientifically ignoring the many available counterexamples. Again, Tiger Woods would represent the quintessential counterexample of the proposition that self-control is a requirement for success. In fact, there are many examples of success in the absence of self-control in sports and even more examples in contemporary business. Even some of the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are notorious for their periodic loss of control and their outbursts, including the late Steve Jobs. Jobs was highly successful as a leader of his organization despite being ell-known for berating and embarrassing team members in a manner that exemplified the antithesis of self-control. Again, Wooden's principle may provide a useful concept, but it is not scientifically supported by empirical evidence or analyses and it is contrary to numerous citable counterexamples that would disprove it as a necessity.

4. Confidence -- Wooden promotes the importance of confidence, but this is also counterintuitive because so many successful athletes and business people seem to be motivated as much by the fear of failure as by their confidence that they will achieve their goal. Even Wooden acknowledges the frequency with which professional athletes vomit before games, with some doing it routinely. This is not an expression of confidence. Conversely, there are myriad examples in life, in sports, and in business where confidence exists without any real basis in reality. At every level of sports, there are players whose confidence exceeds their actual ability or preparedness.

5. Poise -- Wooden suggests that poise is an essential ingredient to success. However, he relies on experience and on cherry-picked examples of individuals with poise while seeming to ignore the many counterexamples of successful professional athletes and business leaders who do not possess or exhibit poise in any real sense.

Intellectual Value of the Book

Wooden's book is more valuable as a biographical retrospective of the author's personal experiences and success as a leader than as an intellectual contribution to the field of leadership. Other works, while also relying heavily on anecdotal references (such as those of John Maxwell (2007) and about Colin Powel (Harari, 2003), provide better insight into applicable leadership ideas, precisely because they focus on objective principles rather than on personal traits and style. Wooden does make some valid points shared by those authors (such as about personal integrity and mutual trust), but on the whole, the work comes across as less helpful from the perspective of understanding management principles because it is entirely unscientific and much too dependent on personal experience rather than objective analyses.


Harari, O. (2003). The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Isaacson, W. (2011) Steve Jobs. Simon and Schuster: New York.

Kriegel, M. (2005). Namath: A Biography. Penguin: New York.

Maxwell, J. (2007). The 21 Irrefutable Rules of Leadership. Macon, GA: Maxwell

Motivation Co.…

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