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John Wooden Knows the Time to Make Friends

My dad spent more than 10 years as an usher at home games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates, and I’ve followed my hometown sports teams regardless of where I’ve lived or worked around the world.

When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last week, I celebrated from my home in Denver. And regardless of where they find themselves in the standings, I’ll spend all summer keeping up with the Pirates and all fall pulling for the Steelers.

I like sports for a lot of reasons, but one is that they help me grow as a leader. In fact, that’s why I benefit from a daily inspirational email newsletter I get from Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pirates. I was introduced to Clint several years ago when he was the manager of the Colorado Rockies, and I find his emails provide wisdom in many ways.

Clint, like me, is a big fan of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, and a recent edition of Clint’s newsletter focused on one of Wooden’s many famous quotes: “The time to make friends is before you need them.”

What an amazingly succinct way of putting a timeless truth.

How often are we all guilty of building relationships mainly on the foundation of our personal, selfish agenda?

Wooden built relationships because he believed in helping others. Clint’s newsletter drew on a story retold by Chip Impelman, who teaches Wooden’s principles in a leadership course. Impelman points out that Wooden’s phone number was listed in directory assistance, that he regularly sat for hours signing autographs at no charge, that he was famous for making himself available to other coaches who wanted to visit, and that he personally responded to every piece of correspondence he received.

Whether he had a close-knit relationship with someone or not, Wooden made everyone feel like a friend. He didn’t do it with the expectation of getting something, but, naturally, his many friends were always there for him when he needed them.

That’s why respect for Wooden stretches far beyond his accomplishments as a basketball coach. He led with transparency and built trust by valuing relationships with everyone he met.

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