“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”
This maxim of Coach John Wooden’s was a cornerstone of his approach to life. As with many of his principles, he learned it from his father, Joshua.
In his book My Personal Best with Steve Jamison, Coach described how his dad reacted when losing his farm:
“The end came suddenly. Bad vaccination serum killed the hogs, drought stunted the crops, and the bank took the farm. In those days, there was no insurance for this kind of trouble, so we lost everything. Those were very hard times for our family, and the Great Depression hadn’t even begun.
“Through it all, Dad never winced. He laid no blame on the merchant who had sold him the bad serum, didn’t curse the weather, and had no hatred toward the banker. My father had done his best, but things went bad. ‘Blaming, cursing, hating doesn’t help you’ he’d say. ‘It hurts you.’ His example is deeply embedded in my mind and, I hope, reflected in my behavior.”
The idea of not blaming others for our own mistakes was also critical in Coach Wooden’s approach to teaching and coaching.
Former UCLA and NBA star Swen Nater was coaching at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California, and was a little frustrated because the players were not picking up what he was teaching quickly enough. When Swen brought the situation to Coach Wooden’s attention, Coach advised Swen simply: You haven’t taught until they have learned.
This in part led to You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices by Swen Nater and Ronald Gallimore. In this book, Coach commented on the responsibility of the teacher:
“When I became a high school teacher, I took my responsibility very seriously. I believe that I was paid to teach, and that meant it was my responsibility to help every one of my students learn. I believe it’s impossible to claim you have taught when there are students who have not learned.”
As a leader, you should work with those you supervise to get to the core problems and fix them, as opposed to blaming the team and complaining about the lack of talent you have to work with.
When you blame others, you prevent yourself from being able to do proper self-evaluation, which is critical to self-improvement. The leader who doesn’t blame others has his office in the solutions department, not the excuses department.
In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach summed it up this way:
“You can stumble and fall, make errors and mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming others, including fate, for your results. Always believe there is a positive to be found in the negative. Things usually happen for a reason, even when you are unable to discern the reason. Remember, ‘There is a special providence even in the fall of a sparrow.’”