Tag Archives: Integrity

Success and 300 Unread Love Letters

If you know anything about college basketball, you may have come across the name John Wooden. The former coach of the UCLA basketball teams holds scores of unbroken records and numerous accolades and awards for his achievements as a player and a coach. Most significantly, Wooden led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 NCAA championships, seven of them consecutively.

Aside from his winning program, Wooden gained notoriety for his peculiar rules like, “Never be late. Not one word of profanity. And never criticize a teammate.” Today, one of the greatest achievements for any collegiate basketball player is winning the John R. Wooden award. Multiple basketball courts, leadership programs, schools and even a post office have been named after the “Wizard of Westwood.” Finally, although the coach retired in 1975, UCLA players still wear a patch with the initials “JRW” inside a black pyramid as a reminder of the coach’s legacy of success.

We live in a culture of grand gestures. At first glance, these great achievements and grand monuments seem to be the pinnacle of success. But success is not achieved in the winning of a title, in a job promotion, or the name of a building. It is not a bestselling book or a viral YouTube video. You see, success is not a one-time event.

Coach Wooden understood this. In a TED talk given in 2008, he defined success as, “the peace of mind attained through the satisfaction of doing your best in a given situation.”

Written-LettersWhile many are familiar with his coaching career, what you may not know about John Wooden is that on the 21st of every month, he wrote a love letter to Nellie, his wife of 53 years. What’s more, even after Nellie’s death, Wooden continued to write her letters, adding them to a stack of unopened letters on her pillow. This stack would grow month by month for 25 years.

Wooden only stopped writing the letters when his own eyesight began failing in the final months of his life. The coach’s relentless dominance on the basketball court was merely an echo of his quiet, relentless pursuit of excellence as a husband and a man of character. Or, to say it another way, Wooden simply made up his mind every day to do the best he could as a teacher, a coach, a husband and a man of faith.

Wooden’s attitude towards success is that it is a process, a monument built and established over time, rather than the outcome of one championship game at the end of a season. Success is working hard at practice, doing the things you need to do every day on the job, and treating people well even if they don’t acknowledge or appreciate it. Every action, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, adds a brick to success.

It is the discipline of getting up early to write another chapter of the book. It is the four chapters of the Bible you read with your morning coffee instead of watching the news. It is doing the dishes for your spouse, even though you’ve worked all day too. Wooden himself said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Success is the by-product of patiently and consistently doing the right things.

Success is 300 unread love letters.

What Donald Sterling can Teach us about Words

As the NBA reaches the end of its season, the news headlines center around a scandal far from the court, a recording allegedly of an argument between Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his former girlfriend. The ignorant and small-minded comments about race have players, coaches and owners calling for the league to remove Sterling.

The comments—whether they end up confirmed as Sterling’s or not—are unacceptable, and the entire episode casts a poor light on the sport, where other owners, coaches and players were some of the original trailblazers and boundary-breakers in the civil rights movement. As the story continues to evolve, I hope it will generate productive discussion about racism, privacy, and business ethics. But, with the information we have now (which is not much), here’s a few things to think about:

  1. Words are powerful—One of the main thrusts of my book, Sticks & Stones Exposed, is the idea that our words can do more damage to others and ourselves that we’ve ever realized. Whether spoken, emailed, Tweeted, or texted these little black scribbles can wreak havoc in an instant. In the age of “friends and followers”, it’s wise to be even more aware of how far-reaching our words can be. The words spoken in the recording have hurt plenty of the people in Sterling’s life and many that he doesn’t even know.
  2. Words have consequences—So often we blurt out something without considering the consequences. Or, without considering that our words even have consequences. This is a HUGE mistake! Our careless and thoughtless words can wreck relationships, poison corporate cultures, and sink innovative ideas and projects. It does not matter if you are in public or private, “in the heat of the moment” or “just joking around.” You may not stand to lose an entire NBA team, but your damaging words might put your relationships with employees, clients and family on the line—and isn’t that really the most important?
  3. Words create collateral damage—Maybe you know that sometimes in the heat of the moment, you tend to say some colorful things that might hurt others. Get over it, you think. What you don’t realize is that you’re also hurting yourself. Similar to a boomerang, the hurtful things you say DO come back to you—in the form of a bitter spouse, resentful and unmotivated coworkers, fed up customers that finally disappear, and friends that begin to avoid your phone calls. When your words hurt other people (even unintentionally!), their opinion of you, and consequently their treatment of you will change as well. Your life is the collateral damage.

Bullies: Their Message Hasn’t Changed

BullyingAn article in The Atlantic called “How To Stop Bullies” caught my attention this week with a MIT professor’s insight on cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying, has been described as a “new” kind of bullying using technology and including things like hurtful emails, texts, and embarrassing pictures or fake profiles. While the medium that bullies are using to spread messages of hurt and hate may be new, the messages are not, explains Henry Liberman. Using software designed to filter negative and offensive content by looking for key words in postings, he and his team discovered that 95% of bullying comments fall into 6 categories, post after post. Ready for them?

  1. Appearance
  2. Intelligence
  3. Race
  4. Ethnicity
  5. Sexuality
  6. Perceived acceptance or rejection

Humans have essentially been using the same kinds of insults since we came up with cave paintings.  In fact, in the past few years archaeologists have discovered that the ancient city of Pompeii is covered in graffiti.  Call it the Twitter of antiquity. And our austere Roman forbearers weren’t all debating the merits of democracy and coming up with epigraphs. Here’s a few of my favorite messages (and their English translations).


“Phileros is a eunuch.”


“Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook.”


“Epaphra, you are bald.”

Look around the web and you’ll find even more examples that would put a modern-day truck stop bathroom to shame. Amazingly, long after Pompeii was buried beneath lava, the Roman Empire was decimated by Huns and the original Latin ceased to be used, these words have been discovered, translated and analyzed. I wonder—if your tweets, posts and blogs were discovered 500 or even 50 years from now–what future researchers would say about you. Would your online persona reflect a more modern, enlightened being or a tech-savvy caveman, trading in his chisel for a keyboard?

Looking at the lasting effect of words, whether they are carved into a wall or posted in a digital space, I hope we can join together in a conscious evolutionary leap forward.  Can we begin to litter social media with positivity, encouragement and kindness? Imagine what would happen if we did.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Did you see the recent Dateline NBC special about kids who have been so bullied for their appearances that they are seeking free plastic surgery from a nonprofit?

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of children and plastic surgery, the special gave a heart-wrenching look into the lives of several children and teens who were being tormented by their classmates. I am not ashamed to say that tears were rolling down my face as the cameras were there to capture the moment each child learned whether or not they would receive the surgery.

However, I thought the most profound moment of the special came in an exchange between 15-year-old Renata—who wants a nose job–and one of her friends.

“What does it feel like to be beautiful?” Renata asked.

After attempting to dodge the question, her friend replied, “You really want to know? It’s not that great.” She continued, “People will always find something to make fun of you for. If it’s not the way you look it will be something else.”

This preteen girl has realized something that many people never understand:

We cannot stop others from throwing sticks and stones our way.

If you don’t believe me, just search for the names of the most beautiful, successful, charitable and athletic on Twitter, and you will be amazed at the hurtful things that people have to say about them. You would think that the people our society holds up as the pinnacles of achievement in their various pursuits would experience less criticism from others—right? Oftentimes just the opposite is true.

In a social culture that seems increasingly engulfed in a tidal wave of snarky, hurtful and cruel words, it’s impossible to live, work and play without getting at least splashed with the criticism of others. Don’t let it surprise you. But never forget, that we can always take responsibility for our own words and actions. Your kind, caring, uplifting, and encouraging words may be just what the doctor ordered from someone else.

What Justin Bieber Can Teach All of Us About Leadership

LOS ANGELES - MAY 12: Justin Bieber arrives at the Wango Tango Concert at The Home Depot Center on May 12, 2012 in Carson, CA. Photo taken on: May 12th, 2012

LOS ANGELES – MAY 12: Justin Bieber arrives at the Wango Tango Concert at The Home Depot Center on May 12, 2012 in Carson, CA.
Photo taken on: May 12th, 2012 © Carrie Nelson

This week my Twiter feed has exploded with tweets about Justin Bieber along with the hashtags #WeWillAlwaysSupportYouJustin and #DeportBieber. Although the young singer’s actions were reckless and immature at best, the Biebs provides all of us with an opportunity to learn a thing or two about leadership.

1. A leader is anyone who has influence– As many beliebers are arguing today, Justin is just “acting his age” or “doing what kids do” and that his behavior is being blown out of proportion. Maybe that’s true, but his role as an entertainer has given him influence—massive influence in fact—over popular culture, music, acceptable hairstyles, and most importantly, other young people. Like it or not, the hoopla over his arrest only confirms his influence and identity as a leader.

2. All leaders have blind spots– Weaknesses, faults, temptations, call them whatever you like, but without a careful examination of your own blind spots any leader can make one of those mistakes that, to everyone else, looks like such a bonehead move. Money, fame and power certainly don’t eliminate blind spots. If anything, they enhance them. This is why it is so important to allow others to point out your blind spots to you.

3. Leaders don’t insulate themselves from accountability– We’ve all seen it. Whether a small-town politician or an international superstar, people flock to please those with power and influence. However, the most successful leaders know that they must have people on their team to hold them accountable to their goals and deliver warnings when a leader looks to be headed into a blind spot. I don’t know if Justin Bieber has people like this in his life or not, but I know that the unfortunate decisions he has made this week remind me to keep close the people in my life who are not afraid to “push back” on my ideas or actions.

4. Whenever a leader makes a mistake, the opposition will celebrate– We all know the moniker “nobody’s perfect” until one of our leaders lets us down. It is a sad truth that human beings seem to love seeing one another fail—and hacking one another apart on social media outlets. However, Justin, and any one else who has ever faced opposition, can choose to respond by ignoring the malicious, learning what he can from his critics and using the experience as a motivator to push him towards his goals—what I like to call falling forward.

5. Your character will ultimately shape your influence– No matter how thoroughly you divide your public life from your private life, both will eventually have to match up. In Justin’s case, his image has gone from hardworking entertainer to another spoiled celebri-teen. As the pastor Andy Stanley says, “Character is not made in crisis; it is only exhibited.” In challenging times, do our words, actions and reactions match up to the person we proclaim to be publicly?

For more insight into leadership and how we can redefine what true leadership means, be sure to check out Leadership Redefined.