It is not uncommon for leaders to display their credentials, tout their educational pedigrees as well as their personal accomplishments. In some cases, it may be required and advisable. I find it assuring and almost comforting when visiting my rheumatologist’s office, and see his multiple degrees hanging on his wall. It assures me that he has the education required to get a medical license. Saying that, he has never once informed me of his educational pedigree nor felt the need to fill me in on his medical exploits. I have never asked any of the pilots from any of the airlines I have flown on over the years for proof of credentials nor have they offered any. I take it for granted that they are qualified and competent to fly. I find that degrees or personal exploits do not insure one’s level of competency, nor do they guarantee the quality of a leader.
John Wooden held a master’s degree in education and was a three-time college all-American when playing at Purdue. He spent several years playing in the NBL, playing professional basketball for the Indianapolis Kautskys while he taught English in high school and coached basketball. During his time as a pro basketball player, he made 134 consecutive free throws and was voted NBL 1st team. But, “Wooden never used profanity with his players, and he rarely invoked his own pedigree. “He didn’t have to say anything about his reputation as a player. He didn’t boost himself at all to us,” said Ben Stull, a sophomore on Wooden’s first team. Then again, he didn’t have to. When Wooden didn’t like what his players were doing, he simply showed them what he wanted.” Wooden would use the same philosophy when his players would get overconfident during the season. He would schedule a scrimmage game between his high school team and some of the faculty, including himself. His skills spoke volumes without a single word as he proved to be unstoppable on the court. He believed “it was his job to prepare the team to play. Once the game began it was their responsibility to show what they had learned.” Wooden often looked back to assess his progress as a teacher and coach. He felt that in his years coaching, his biggest fault was expecting far too much from his young players due to his exceptional skill as a player. He should have shown more patience with them during the coaching process
In Wooden’s early years as a teacher and a coach, he designed and taught what he called his Pyramid of success. For Wooden “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self -satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” I find it refreshing to see a definition of success that doesn’t point at position, pedigree, or status. Instead, it lays the responsibility of success at the feet of the pursuer, making them measure their own success against their own abilities. This nicely eliminates the need for competitive comparisons. In Wooden’s mind, everything starts with hard work. The first foundational stone in his pyramid is entitled “INDUSTRIOUS”, which is the idea that hard work and good planning bring about good results. As you proceed across and up the pyramid it becomes obvious that John’s leadership pyramid comes from a holistic approach. Each stone takes into consideration character and ability. The final stone at the top of the pyramid is entitled “COMPETITIVE GREATNESS” which focuses on the leader being their absolute best in times when their best is required. Up the sides and around the top of the pyramid is the mortar that holds the structure together. For Wooden, these are 15-character qualities that each individual needs to display to assure success. On the top, covering the capstone, is faith and patience.
Touting my educational pedigree or personal accomplishments is not something I do. For some reason I have never felt the need, but I know those who do. They tend to lead by decree instead of relationship. I served under a pastor for a time who took very little advice from others because he felt his doctorate made him better that those with a lesser education. Those who lead by pedigree instead of relationship tend to – in my view – show a lesser level of competency than those who are willing to lead alongside their followers, despite their pedigree. There is something about leading through relationships that seems to bring us all onto a level playing field. During this time of COVID, it is becoming more and more apparent to me that many of the leaders I see, seem to be leading by pedigree. They don’t appear to have a pyramid of leadership in their lives, nor do they have the mortar of character holding it all together. I believe we can do better!