Build pyramid of success with blocks, mortar

  • Published
  • By Col. Lawrence Gray
  • 39th Air Base Wing vice commander
My daughter recently celebrated her thirteenth birthday. She had a few friends spend the night and we had the obligatory cake, but as we celebrated I had the stark realization that I was now the proud owner of two teenage children ... who both think that I just fell off of the turnip truck. Nonetheless, as a parent I still have the responsibility to mold them into good citizens, even if they don't always listen.

So in my best effort to figure out how to send the right messages to them, I did what is most comfortable to me. Since I consider myself somewhat of a sports enthusiast and a onetime athletic participant (I dare not consider myself an athlete), I looked for a suitable role model from the world of sports. I turned to perhaps the greatest teacher the sports world has ever had--legendary college basketball coach, John Wooden.

Coach Wooden stopped coaching basketball in 1975 after earning his 10th national championship with the University of California, Los Angeles; however, he doesn't consider winning basketball championships his greatest achievement nor a measure of his success. In his mind, his greatest impact in life has been building men and women of character and helping as many people as possible understand the meaning of success. After his retirement, Coach Wooden wrote numerous books and toured the lecture circuit espousing his philosophy. I decided to buy his book, "Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success," to use as a tool to facilitate passing knowledge.

The book's message is simple: there are certain character traits that serve as building blocks, and others that serve as mortar holding the blocks together, that will lead anyone down the path of success. Coach Wooden constructed his pyramid by purposely ordering his blocks into a foundation upon which to build other blocks. As I read the book, I was struck by the obviousness of many of the blocks, but surprised by others.

Coach describes the cornerstones of his pyramid as "industriousness" (defined as both hard work and planning) and "enthusiasm." Enjoying what you do, infecting others with your passion, and working hard at doing it seem to me to be key and essential ingredients to being good at something. Of the other three "base" blocks, I was not surprised that "loyalty," both to superiors and subordinates, and cooperation were listed. What did surprise me as a basic block was the characteristic of "friendship." The coach's rationale is that people make us better; that it is easier for someone to reach his or her potential when they learn "the value of including others on the quest."

The other character blocks that construct the pyramid include: self-control, alertness (constant observation in order to learn and improve), initiative, intentness (setting realistic goals and striving to achieve them), condition (mental, physical, and moral), skill (knowledge and ability to execute the fundamentals), team spirit, poise, confidence (described as respect without fear), and competitive greatness (being at your best when your best is needed).

The qualities, or mortar, that hold these blocks together consist of ambition, sincerity, adaptability, honesty, resourcefulness, reliability, fight, integrity, patience, and faith. Combining these traits (the blocks and mortar) into this framework leads one to achieve success, which Coach Wooden defined in 1934 as "the peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Today's world challenges every Airman to be the best he or she is capable of being every day. Whether it's meeting the challenge of holding together a shop that is manned at two-thirds of its authorized end-strength or deploying for 179-day rotation filling a joint expeditionary tour, we need our Airmen to be successful.

While many of Coach Wooden's traits seem to be self-evident, it's easy in our busy lives to lose focus on the essentials. It's necessary to step back occasionally to remind oneself to practice the "fundamentals." Though "Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success" is my catalyst, there are many other authors that may resonate louder to you; the key is to reacquaint yourself with the basics.

It's like I tell my kids, sometimes the old guys have things to say that are worth listening to.