Life Lessons from The Big Redhead


Hard work, discipline and overcoming adversity were the main themes when I recently attended Seton Hall University’s Executive Suite Series, featuring the legendary Bill Walton.

As part of the renowned UCLA Basketball program that won seven straight national titles (a record most believe will never be broken), and NBA Finals MVP, regular season MVP and recipient of the Sixth Man Award, Walton had plenty of stories to share.  These included the incredible highs and devastating lows of a stellar career marred by serious injury.

The most compelling message I heard from Bill Walton was the importance of preparing for the inevitable adversity that’s on its way.  Because you never know how the game of life is going to play out.  Surviving 37 orthopedic surgeries in order to keep his dream alive, he learned that motivation must come from within and that developing critical life skills enable you to work around challenges in order to get through them.  His “Big 4” include balance, quickness, creative imagination and empathy.

Here are some other great quotes and lessons from that day:

  1. “Ask someone who is on their way back.” No doubt, they have a plan, or a formula, that led to success—and that you can benefit from.  Bill includes his parents and John Wooden, a true force of nature, as his most valuable mentors.  And, his first coach, who was a volunteer coach for 59 years—that is servant leadership!
  1. The importance of culture in creating success, recognizing that the strength of any team depends on the strength of each individual. John Wooden wanted his players to excel as students, as athletes and to prepare them to meet life. He taught relentlessly about the 15 elements that comprise his Leadership Pyramid. (Walton claims he was Wooden’s biggest nightmare, driving him to an early grave at 99.)
  1. “A culture of yes is built on a foundation of no.” Learn to ask the right questions to get the answers you want.  True leaders absorb, develop, then pass on the skills, knowledge and discipline to the next generation of leaders.  And when “the leader can say no and the team buys in, anything is possible.”  The best leaders are like fork lifts:  they pick someone up and put them in a higher place.
  1. Basketball is not a game of size and strength. Rather, it’s about training the mind and subjugating the ego. “Success is never present without sacrifice and discipline.”  And learning to put failure in its proper perspective is critical. Even the terms in used in the game provide larger lessons:  transition, cross over, rebound, fast break, momentum.
  1. Big challenges can lead to big accomplishments. Walton described “my biggest accomplishment and your biggest nightmare” – learning to speak at the age of 28 after a lifelong stutter.
  1. Finally, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that matters most.” This is what John Wooden wrote to him when he graduated from UCLA.  What a great message to carry through life!

P.S.  He also recommended these four books that he recently read:

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight

Believer, by David Axelrod

Dark Money, by Jane Mayer

Bill Graham Presents by Robert Greenfield

#leadership #lifelessons #successprinciples #highperformance #setonhall #executivesuite

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