Good Leaders Champion the Fundamentals | David Couper Consulting


Good Leaders Champion the Fundamentals

Posted by Josh Espinosa on March 20, 2018 11:24 AM
Good Leaders Champion the Fundamentals

Good Leaders Champion the Fundamentals 

March is upon us, and with the NCAA college basketball tournament in full swing, it’s a good time to reflect on legendary Coach John Wooden’s enduring legacy, as well as his teachings about leadership.

The late Wooden, by all accounts a gentle soul in nature, has a mythic backstory; from a humble farm in Indiana, his UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team won 10 championships, with a stretch of dominance that included 88 wins in a row and seven straight titles.

After he retired as undeniably the greatest college basketball coach in history, he became a motivational speaker, and before his death at the age of 99 in 2010, millions of people had heard the gentle general share his leadership wisdom.  One of his keys to success was focusing on the fundamentals, the basics and getting the little things right.

You Know How to Put Your Socks On...Right?

While it’s easy to envision a room full of C-level executives nodding along in agreement with the old coach about much work it takes to be successful or even taking notes about how to be more compassionate, staying true to fundamentals is a different animal. 

Leaders at the executive level are usually talented, intelligent people one might think are beyond fundamentals at first glance. But Hall of Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Walton, who played for Wooden during the early 70s, often talks about how on his first day at UCLA, when the coach took all the freshman aside and taught them how to put on their socks and tie their shoes, which Walton says at the time seemed utterly ridiculous; here were some the best basketball players in the country -- if not the world -- and they were being re-taught things they had been doing since pre-school.

But the coach had a reason.

Running up and down a basketball court is rough on players’ feet, and socks with wrinkles cause blisters. Playing through blisters can lead to compensatory injuries, and in the coach’s mind, it was best to get ahead of the worst-case scenario from the outset.

After the socks lesson, Walton talks about how right after the socks lesson, the freshman went out to see the varsity team practice, and how he marveled at how crisp, fast and tight the team looked. Wooden was doing something right -- his teams had won the last four NCAA titles.

What Kind of Things are Basic for Good Leaders?

The ebbs and flows of business life is wrought with important decisions, stress, passion projects and even a little fun, and organizational leaders often move up the ranks because they’ve spent years being good at their core competencies. 

The thing is though, as the titles get fancier and perks get better, the stakes get bigger and the pressure builds, and all of a sudden, the types of tasks you’re doing are things you never thought you’d do before. Coming up with strategy, managing an organization or a department not just a team and analyzing Q3 reports and making decisions about how to get to different numbers in Q4 are a lot different than operating on a patient or managing a medical or producing a television series.

Of course, underneath all the paper work is the secret sauce that got you there in the first place: your hard work, tenacity, decisiveness or your perseverance, and one of the most rewarding fundamentals that leaders can employ daily is staying confident in their own abilities.

In fact, remembering to be you is just as important as putting your socks on right in the morning.

Interested in Working on Your Fundamentals? 

Naturally, everybody has different attributes that are fundamental to their success. So, what are your fundamentals? And how can you help encourage the people on your team to hone theirs?

David Couper Consulting helps organizations around the world answer these types of questions so that they can foster strong leadership teams. For more information about our coaching and leadership training programs, contact us at

Josh Espinosa is a freelance writer and designer. He also founded The Approachable Music Project, a music education program on a mission to make learning to play easier on people.



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