by Craig Impelman
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
This was one of Coach Wooden’s favorite quotes, one of many he used and applied from or about his favorite American, Abraham Lincoln. Coach Wooden began studying Lincoln in college because his father, Joshua Wooden, had often quoted him.
Coach wanted to learn more about how his own father had become such a great person, and he thought that by studying Lincoln, he would gain some additional insight into his dad. Also as a result of his extensive research, came much of Coach’s leadership style and favorite ideas.
The key traits of good character—humility, consideration for others and integrity—are tested when a person receives power. They might also be tested when we simply face adversity but not as intensely, because maintaining these qualities when we have power requires self-discipline.
It is much like the idea that true character is what you do when you know no one is watching. Your manager will usually be humble and courteous to their boss, but will they have that same humility and consideration for the people they supervise if it is not required?
Coach Wooden often commented that he admired President Lincoln because he never lost his common-man touch. As has been well-documented, Coach Wooden had the same humility and consideration for others whether he was dealing with the president of the United States or a custodian that he encountered during a road trip with his basketball team.
With power often comes material wealth and recognition, which is easy to become attached to. So when a leader has to make a decision knowing that if they act with integrity, it may cost them much or all of that wealth and recognition, it is a true test of character.
Coach believed that a leader’s most powerful tool is their example. The leader who has power but maintains their humility, consideration and integrity is likely to inspire the same qualities in the people they supervise.
The waterfall of character that a leader starts throughout an organization can be very positive or very destructive. The positive waterfall requires great character with great power; not an easy task, but a worthwhile one.
Joshua Wooden created this positive character waterfall for his son John. In one way or another we all have that same opportunity for someone else, as well.