John Wooden and The Rambam

I was leafing through one of John Wooden’s books on leadership the other day. Wooden was a stickler for “old-fashioned values” and reading it over, I mused what the opposite might be..

Do (leadership) values change with the times? I don’t think so. Technology/social media/apps, global/cross-cultural/diversity and inclusion, all nudge around the edges of communication or edification, but not values. Perhaps Wooden’s moniker of “old-fashioned” was from his Indiana upbringing during the Depression, devoutness to his Christian faith, a near ascetic behaviour, fastidious attention to detail, and (almost) ‘aw-shucks’ approach which hardly masked his steeliness.

This all may sound simplistic, evoking a scoff or two from some new management gurus of talent management in a changing economy with impactful empathy who can project their value proposition, KPI’s and indices collaboratively and present at the C level, yadda yadda yadda…


There’s nothing fancy in what I teach about team building–nothing that requires a special gift, privilege or access to power. Rather it requires dedication to certain principles and concepts.

He hammers away at promoting sincerity, enthusiasm, banishing sarcasm or negativity, always to do what’s best for the team, not individual, make sure everyone knows their role, push to do your personal best every time, win or lose, and always control emotions. He wrote how hard he had to work at being patient, at controlling his emotions, and seeing gray rather than black and white.

Wooden had to learn how to stop being a strict disciplinarian, realising it would handcuff him and the team. “Logic and feelings-the head and the heart. Getting it right, achieving the proper balance, is one of the most challenging areas of leadership.” He then listed “Seven Ways to Make Your Criticism Count.”

His checklist looked familiar.. It was. Moses Maimonides (aka Rambam), in his “Guide For the Perplexed”, a treatise on ethical behaviour, made at least 3 points on how to rebuke another:
[list style=”circle”]

  • Do so privately, never publicly
  • Do so gently
  • Let them know it’s for their own good
  • [/list]

    (His book, by the way, was written 823 years ago, to be exact, published in 1190).

    Here are Coach Wooden’s seven points:
    [list style=”circle”]

  • Get all the facts
  • Don’t lash out
  • Be specific
  • Don’t make it personal
  • Do it privately to avoid embarrassment
  • Only the leader gives criticism
  • Once it’s done it’s done
  • [/list]

    (The book I’m looking at was published 5 years ago, 2007).

    If Maimonides had been born in the early 20th century in the US Midwest, he and Wooden would have found each other, on or off the court..

    Old-fashioned values? I’ll take ’em any day..

    We need to be reminded of the basics–and practice them more often. They’re timeless values of how to live an ethical life, not simply how we “lead” or “communicate”, and direct us towards what we can be.


    Written by Neal Horwitz, MD of Henry Hale Maguire


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