Oswald Letter

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success makes perfect sense in the workplace

pyramidby Dan Oswald

I’ve been accused of too often writing about sports in this blog. I guess that’s because sports have been such a big part of my life as a participant, coach, and spectator—but also because I subscribe to the idea that sports imitate life. In sports, as in life, there is success and there is failure. And in sports, it’s often easy to see what leads to one or the other. Studying the actions that lead to either success or failure makes learning happen.

Famous UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden is best known for winning 10 national championships in a 12-year period as well as winning a then-record 88 consecutive games. Quite the record of success and worthy of some study. Then you learn that Wooden was also a three-time All-American basketball player at Purdue University. Whatever his approach was to basketball, it worked for him both as a player and as a coach.

Early in his career, in addition to his coaching duties, Wooden taught English. With an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in education, he considered himself a teacher first and a coach second. It was as a teacher that he came up with the idea for “The Pyramid of Success”—a concept that took more than a decade to complete. If you want to study Wooden’s success and learn a few lessons that can be applied to your own situation, I suggest you focus your attention on his pyramid.

Wooden’s Pyramid of Success includes 15 building blocks that, at least in his mind, lead to success. The cornerstones of the pyramid are industriousness and enthusiasm. Wooden says about industriousness, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come from hard work and careful planning.” And about enthusiasm he writes, “Your heart must be in your work.” But those are just the cornerstones. Wooden’s 13 other building blocks of success, with his description of each, are:

  1. Friendship—Comes from mutual esteem, respect, and devotion. A sincere liking for all.
  2. Loyalty—To yourself and to all those dependent on you. Keep your self-respect.
  3. Cooperation—With all levels of your coworkers. Help others, and see the other side.
  4. Self-Control—Emotions under control. Delicate adjustments between mind and body. Keep judgment and common sense.
  5. Alertness—Be observing constantly. Be quick to spot a weakness and correct it or use it as the case may warrant.
  6. Initiative—Cultivate the ability to make decisions and think alone. Desire to excel.
  7. Intentness—Ability to resist temptation and stay with your course. Concentrate on your objective, and be determined to reach your goal.
  8. Condition—Mental/Moral/Physical—Rest, exercise, and diet must be considered. Moderation must be practiced. Dissipation must be eliminated.
  9. Skill—A knowledge of the ability to properly execute the fundamentals. Be prepared. Cover every detail.
  10. Team Spirit—An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the welfare of all. The team comes first.
  11. Poise—Just being yourself. Being at ease in any situation. Never fighting yourself.
  12. Confidence—Respect without fear. Confident but not cocky. May come from faith in yourself in knowing that you are prepared.
  13. Competitive greatness—“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Be at your best when your best is needed. Real love of a hard battle.

It’s quite a list, and as I mentioned, a lot of thought went into it over a long period of time. But as you reflect on the list, it’s hard to take issue with what Wooden came up with. And while you can certainly see how this list applies to a basketball team, it also applies to our work. Which of the blocks in Wooden’s pyramid isn’t an asset in the workplace? Which of us wouldn’t benefit from demonstrating each of these attributes in our work?

And Wooden didn’t stop with the 15 building blocks of success. He also listed other traits he believed are critical to reaching the pinnacle. They include:

  • Ambition;
  • Adaptability;
  • Resourcefulness;
  • Fight;
  • Faith;
  • Patience;
  • Reliability;
  • Integrity;
  • Honesty; and
  • Sincerity.

Wooden believed that these building blocks, coupled with these traits, would lead to success, which he defined as the “peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” You see, success isn’t a destination. Success isn’t a trophy. Success isn’t financial security. Success is knowing you did your absolute best.

I’m curious—which of Wooden’s 15 building blocks of success really resonates with you? Which do you think is the most important? Wooden chose to make industriousness and enthusiasm the cornerstones of his pyramid. What would you choose for yours? My take is that you can’t go wrong in choosing any one of them, and it certainly takes more than just one to be successful—but I’m a bit partial to team spirit.