Wooden went on to become the legendary head basketball coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team where he led them to 10 national championships and four perfect seasons.  At UCLA, Wooden continued to rescue the cultures he came in contact with by standing up for others who had less power and status. He watched out for the student managers on the UCLA men’s basketball team by making sure all of his players picked up their own towels and trash in the locker room after games rather than expecting the student managers to clean up after them.

Periodically, Wooden himself would pick up a mop and work along side the student managers to clean the floors of the basketball court.  No position on the team was beneath the great coach. Wooden always expected his players to respect and be courteous to flight attendants, hotel, and wait staff workers when they traveled. He taught the players that “you are as good as anyone, but no better than anyone.”

Wooden, a committed Christian, was a culture rescuer, as Jesus calls us to be. You can learn more about him, including the impact he had on the men who played for him, in our book, Fired Up or Burned Out (Thomas Nelson) where we wrote much more about John Wooden’s story, his character and leadership style.

Control, Indifference, or Connection?

Remember the three types of Cultures explained in part one of this series?  The Dog-Eat-Dog Culture (where people with power try to control and dominate others) was the culture of those creating racist rules for the NAIB. The organization was playing into the fear and hatred of those who refused to admit that no matter our color, we are all equal human beings. This culture permeated Wooden’s time and place, sometimes even preventing the boys from all eating together in the same restaurant. It is a toxic culture, breeding only fear, selfishness, and false superiority.

The second type of culture, the Culture of Indifference, can also be seen in the life of John Wooden. The fact that he was the first coach in the league to put an African-American player in a tournament game means that many other coaches were sitting on the sidelines. Whether they were afraid to take a stand or indifferent to the bigger problem, these coaches valued their own personal security over making a difference in the world and standing up for something.

John and Nell Wooden knew about the power of Connection Culture, where people feel connected to those with whom they work and to their work (because it brings truth, beauty or goodness into the world). The boys on Wooden’s team were connected by a powerful bond, because their coach taught them to believe that all men are equal, and that discrimination should not be dismissed or accepted. Because of this Christ-like connection, the league (and eventually many other leagues, both college and professional) grew toward the Connection Culture model.

 Connection is Biblical. Jesus prayed to God that believers would “all be one… so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:21 NLT). Paul states that“God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 NLT). We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world by creating homes, neighborhoods, churches, workplaces and communities that are cultures of love and connection (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).  What cultures are you a part of?  What cultures is God calling you to rescue and strengthen to become cultures that glorify Him?

Jason Pankau and Michael Lee Stallard are co-authors of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity (Thomas Nelson). Rev. Jason Pankau is president of Life Spring Network, a ministry that helps pastors and church leaders develop holistic, transformational, disciple-making communities, and he is the author of Beyond Self Help: The True Path to Harnessing God’s Wisdom, Realizing Life’s Potential and Living the Abundant Life (Xulon Press).  Michael Lee Stallard is president of E Pluribus Partners, a leadership training, consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders develop “Connection Cultures” that boost productivity, innovation and performance. 

Publication date: July 11, 2012