What Pat Williams Teaches Us About Coach John Wooden and Life

One of the things leaders come to understand soon enough is that being is charge is tough work.

Getting people to pull together for common cause is not for the faint hearted. It requires a sense of the big picture as well as an attention to detail and in between you may need to play alternating roles of cajoler as well as challenger, all the while making certain you set the right example.

Two leaders I know exemplify what it means to walk that talk.

The first is John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach. His record is unequalled, ten NCAA titles in twelve years at UCLA. He retired at age 65 at the top of his game and spent the next 34 years of his life till age 99 sharing his wisdom with the rest of world.

The second is Pat Williams, author (with Jim Denney) of a fine new tome, Coach Wooden: The Seven Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours. What comes through in the book are not just the stories of how Wooden took individual boys and molded them into championship teams but the lessons of life that he taught.

Like Wooden, Williams is a man of sport. He was a baseball player in the Phillies organization. He then switched sports becoming a highly successful NBA executive with the Philadelphia 76ers and now serves as Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic.

As an NBA executive, Williams hired another basketball legend, Chuck Daly--the only coach to win an NBA title and an Olympic gold medal as coach--to his first pro contract. Williams also drafted Shaquille O'Neill, one of many superstars to play for Pat's teams.

Like Wooden, Willliams is an inspirational speaker. As a much in-demand speaker, Pat can regale audiences with his stories and his lessons. A favorite quote of mine from Pat is "Can you fake passion? Sure, for about two weeks." Leaders need to back their beliefs with actions. Many of Pat's speeches are based on his treasure trove of books--some eighty titles to his name.

Like Wooden, Williams is man of deep and abiding faith. But unlike some who keep their beliefs to themselves, Pat has put his faith into action. He is the father of 27 children. Three are birth children, the rest -- all from disadvantaged environments --have been adopted. Pat has joked that he knows tough times--at one time he and his wife had fifteen teenagers living under one roof.

Pat Williams, not unlike the coach he admires, is generous with his time. I know because I am the recipient of such kindness. Nearly a decade ago, in the course of researching a book, I wrote to Pat asking some advice he might want to share about public speaking. Pat sent back a long and detailed, handwritten reply sharing some lessons he had learned from his years on the speaker circuit. Pat did not know me from Adam nor did he have any expectation that what he would share would end up in print. As fate would have it, the book was published but sans Pat's fine contributions. No matter Pat and I stayed in touch.

And now Pat is facing a tough battle of his own--a rare form of blood cancer. True to his nature, Pat has responded with his usual vigor--he has competed in more than 20 marathons--and with his doctors attacked the disease aggressively. So far so good!

Getting an email from Pat these days is a form of inspiration. His attitude his upbeat and his message is simple. "The Mission is Remission." As I have told Pat, I feel better just hearing from him.

Coach Wooden said, "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." Pat Williams lives that lesson everyday and in the process teaches us how to do the same.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world's top 25 leadership experts. John's newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John's website, www.johnbaldoni.com.

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