Why Leaders Must Be Alert

UPDATED: October 18, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 6, 2017

The first two blocks on the second tier of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success—self-control and alertness—are essential qualities for any leader and team if they are going to perform near to their capability.

A leader with self-control will create consistency. A leader with self-control will resist taking shortcuts irrespective of how alluringly they are presented and how easily they are made available. A leader with self-control will “keep his cool” in the face of adversity.

It is the self-control of the leader that will enable him to maintain alertness for himself and his team members.

Related: Why Being Alert Is Essential to Being Successful

In an interview with Steve Churm for a 2005 edition of the OC Metro, Coach was asked, “If you were to give a speech to business school graduates, what are two or three things that you would tell them to do to be successful?” As you can see in Coach’s response, self-control is critical:

“I would certainly stress listening; I think that very well could be number one. Secondly, I would tell them not to get absorbed or involved in things in which you have no control. Finally, concentrate on improving what you can. Work on the things in which you have control to help overcome the things you feel need changed.”

It takes self-control to become a great listener. Sometimes we may be thinking of how we’re going to respond while the other person is talking. The leader who has the self-control to avoid doing this will exhibit a key component of alertness: listening and learning from others.

Related: The Art of Leadership

A leader who listens with alertness will avoid fitting the mold of this Woodenism: “Too many know the last word about everything and the first word about nothing.”

The following is an excerpt from the letter Coach sent to his 1970-71 team in July of 1970 in which he explains he will be available to listen, but also clarifies his role as a leader:

Come in and talk to me whenever you feel like it, but please remember that it isn’t necessarily lack of communication if we fail to agree on your position or the position of another on the team. I am and will always be interested in your problems, but do feel that everyone should do everything possible to work out his own problems rather than become dependent upon others. I have found prayer most helpful when I am troubled and believe that all prayers are heard and answered, even though the answer may be no.

The leader with alertness has the mental quickness to recognize changing circumstances and adjust accordingly. The alert leader is open-minded and constantly facilitating feedback, creating an engaged and energized team committed to constant improvement.

The alert leader is not content at the end of each day simply because “the numbers were good.” Every day, the alert leader asks the question, “What did we do to improve today?

The alert leader recognizes, as Coach Wooden put it, “When success turns your head, you face failure.”

Related: The Foundation of Leadership

This article originally appeared on TheWoodenEffect.com and has been republished with permission.

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.