“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden

For the past 19 years, I’ve kept a faded page from an old copy of Sports Illustrated in my top desk drawer. The edges are frayed, but the creases of the folds are as tight as the day I tore it from the last page of the magazine. It’s rare that a story captures my attention so much, but this particular article did so in a way that few others have. The article is titled, “A Paragon Rising above the Madness,” from sports journalist Rick Reilly’s column, “The Life of Reilly.” The subject of the piece is the late UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden; the focus of the story, however, is character, leadership, and commitment. It’s a story that will cause you to pause and consider your priorities in life, to re-evaluate what really matters.

I grew up during the heyday of UCLA basketball. I’m too young to remember each of the ten NCAA championships the Bruins won between 1964 and 1975, but old enough to recall seeing them win 88 straight games between 1971 and 1974. Some of the greatest names in basketball took to the court during those years, but through it all, John Wooden paced courtside, calmly leading his teams to victory after victory. As Reilly noted with sincerity, “There’s never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach.”

As I grew older and pursued a military career, the leadership lessons of John Wooden framed much of my thinking.  His pyramid of success served as a model for building successful teams; his 12 lessons in leadership a paradigm for leading those teams. There was nothing particularly complicated about those lessons. They were simple, focused, and remarkably effective. When John Wooden died in 2010 at the age of 99, we lost an incredible coach, teacher, and mentor, but we didn’t lose the leader. The legacy of John Wooden lives on to this day – through this philosophy, through his players, and through his lessons.

1. Good values attract good people.

Values are the lifeblood of an organization. Live your values. Be the exemplar others can follow, and good people will be drawn to you.

2. Use the most powerful four-letter word. Love.

Treat your people as if they are a part of your own family, because they are. Care for them, watch out for them, show them the tough love they need to succeed.

3. Call yourself a teacher.

As a leader, one of your most sacred duties is to help your people reach their full potential. That means committing the time and effort required for them to be all they can be. A great leader is a lifelong teacher, coach, and mentor.

4. Emotion is your enemy.

A true leader knows how and when to wield emotion but is never captive to them. A leader who cannot control their emotions is volatile and unpredictable, and that is someone others will not want to follow.

5. It takes ten hands to score a basket.

As a company commander, my unit motto was, “We Go Farther Together.” Success is a team sport, and it takes everyone on the team to win. The best leaders find a role for everyone and together they achieve heights that individuals only hope to gain.

6. Little things make big things happen.

Have a vision, set a path. But, pay close attention to the little things, because in the end they will accumulate and make the big things possible.

7. Make each day your masterpiece.

Mother Teresa is credited as saying, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today.” Don’t allow a day to slip by without making the most of every opportunity presented. Give every day your best effort and walk away knowing that you gave it your all.

8. The carrot is mightier than the stick.

A central tenet of leadership is motivation, and positive motivation will do more to drive success than fear. Use criticism as teaching tool and provide praise when it’s earned; when punishment is necessary, don’t confuse cruelty for effectiveness.

9. Make greatness available to everyone.

As a leader, your legacy is measured in the success of your followers. You might not remember the name, Fox Conner, but you will never forget his proteges: Eisenhower, Marshall, and Bradley. Few of us will be fortunate enough to mold such successful leaders, but that should always be our goal.

10. Seek significant change.

Never settle for the status quo. Never measure yourself against someone else or another organization. If you truly want to be the very best leader you can be for your team, then you need to set the bar high and push them to greatness.

11. Don’t look at the scoreboard.

Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Define success then work toward it. Focus your effort on achieving it and know which “little things” matter.

12. Adversity is your asset.

Adversity makes us stronger. It helps us to grow. It’s also uncomfortable and may lead to failure. Embrace the adversity that builds character and ability and resist the temptation to blame the failure on others.

Today, John Wooden might seem like a man out of time. His lessons focused on humility, empathy, and compassion. He would remind his players that they had to earn the right to be proud and confident. He was famous for saying, “Discipline yourself, and others won’t need to.” In many ways, values came before anything else, what Reilly called his “Jimmy Stewart morals.” That’s the kind of leader we should all aspire to be.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options, and the podcast, The Smell of Victory; co-founder and former board member of the Military Writers Guild; and a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal. He is the author of five books, numerous professional articles, countless blog posts, and is a prolific military cartoonist.