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seeing the good in others

“The ability to see the good in others and the bad in ourselves is perfect vision.” –John Wooden

These words of wisdom reflect two key elements of Coach Wooden’s approach to life and leadership:

In his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court, Coach recounts a story he often told about seeing the good in others:

There’s an old story about a fellow who went to a small town in Indiana with the thought of possibly moving his family there. “What kind of people live around here?” he asked the attendant at the local filling station.
“Well,” the attendant replied as he checked the oil, “what kind of people live back where you’re from?” The visitor took a swallow of his cherry soda and replied, “They’re ornery, mean and dishonest!”
The attendant looked up and answered, “Mister, you’ll find them about like that around here, too.”
A few weeks later, another gentleman stopped by the gas station on a muggy July afternoon with the same question.
“Excuse me,” he said as he mopped off his brow. “I’m thinking of moving to your town with my family. What kind of people live around these parts?”
Again the attendant asked, “Well, what kind of people live back where you’re from?”
The stranger thought for a moment and replied, “I find them to be kind, decent and honest folks.”
The gas station attendant looked up and said, “Mister, you’ll find them about like that around here, too.”
It’s so true. You often find what you’re looking for.

As Wilfred Peterson states in his essay The Art of Leadership, “The leader has faith in people. He believes in, trusts and thus draws out the best in them.”

Coach Wooden often quoted Abraham Lincoln’s words on this topic: “If you trust, you will be disappointed occasionally, but if you mistrust, you will be miserable all the time.”

Coach also had strong feelings about the importance of seeing the bad in ourselves:

You can make mistakes, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes.

When you blame others, you are trying to excuse yourself. When you make excuses, you can’t properly evaluate yourself.

Without proper self-evaluation, failure is inevitable.

Coach always emphasized that not blaming others included not blaming fate for our mishaps. He often quoted George Moriarty’s poem The Road Ahead or The Road behind:

And so the fates are seldom wrong,
No matter how they twist and wind,
It’s you and I who can make our fates,
We open up or close the gates
On the road ahead or the road behind.

Related: ‘You Are Not a Failure Until You Start Blaming Others for Your Mistakes’

Photo by Black Salmon / Shutterstock

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.