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“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

This was a favorite quote of Coach Wooden’s, President Harry S. Truman’s and baseball coach Earl Weaver’s, who used it for the title of his biography.

A key character trait you need to be a lifelong learner is humility. It is also a critical character trait of a great leader. It is humility that leads to being open minded, which in turn results in having great listening skills.

Related: The Importance of Having Humility

Coach Wooden was a great listener, in part because he knew every time he listened with an open mind, he would learn something.

With regard to learning and leadership, Coach put it this way: A leader who is through learning is through. And so is the team such a leader leads.

Great leadership requires a strong will, humility and an open mind; a diverse but powerful combination.

Coach Wooden learned by listening, asking others for input and advice, being a voracious reader, constantly documenting his successes and failures, and re-evaluating his processes to see what he could improve; all done with humility and an open mind.

It wasn’t until his 15th year at UCLA (1961-62) that Coach Wooden had a team that got to the Final Four of the National Championship. After that season, Coach revamped some basic procedures. In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, he describes it this way:

Starting in 1962–1963, my new policy was to go primarily with seven main players—virtually, seven starters—in both practice and games. My previous goal of doling out playing time in a democratic manner was discarded. I changed a fundamental policy for how I did things.

An extensive review of my notebook also revealed that when UCLA qualified for the NCAA postseason tournament, I intensified our already grueling practices, working players even harder—so hard, in fact, that by tournament time, they were physically and mentally spent. Once I saw evidence of this fact in my notes, I became very prudent in conserving players’ energy prior to the playoffs.

Additionally, my notes showed that in preparation for the NCAA tournament, I added new plays and piled on more information. Instead of staying with what had worked during the regular season—a clear and uncomplicated strategy—I unintentionally made things complicated. I resolved that in the future. I would keep it simple going into postseason play, just as I did during the regular season.

These changes came about from my personal observations and reflections following the revelation of the 1962 season, the fateful year that almost produced a surprise national championship for UCLA.

The changes I have described came about because I had stopped giving myself an excuse for accepting the status quo, for staying at the same level.

Coach Wooden never thought he knew it all, so he never stopped learning.

Related: To Be Skilled at Anything, Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

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Craig Impelman
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.