John Wooden on the Assist - Sports and Business Analogy

John Wooden on the Assist

“In basketball one of theacts that I valued most was the assist—helping a team member to score. The assist in basketball epitomizes Cooperation. The assist is valuable in all organizations, helping someone to do her or his job better. It makes producers out of everyone; it makes everyone feel, ‘We did it ourselves.’ — John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership, p. 29 

Oftentimes, business culture creates competition within companies, not just between them–and a certain competitiveness among co-workers is good. You want your team members to fight for playing time. You want them to fight for their jobs. You want them to fight for that next sale. The need to compete ensures that each person will always strive to be the best they can be, and that pursuit of excellence is what you need if your team is to reach its potential. But you also need your team to play like a team, not like a collection of me-first ball hogs.  

Ball hogs aren’t any fun to play with, and they don’t win games. 

If making the shot means passing the ball to the player closest to the net, then that’s the right thing to do. If closing the sale means handing it off to someone who is better with this particular client, then that’s the right thing to do, too. If you’re an employee and you believe you’ll be sabotaging yourself by making an assist, you’re either wrong about your company or you’re working for the wrong company (some place with a toxic culture where teammates really are pitted against each other). If you’re the boss and your employees can’t or won’t help each other, then you’ve got some work to do. You’ve got to make your company one where people work together. 

Because as useful as a sense of competition is, the reality is that teams win—or lose—together. If you want to win, you have to get to a point where making an assist doesn’t feel like giving away victory, but rather sharing in it.  


Image of legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, UCLA Bruins – 1960, via Wikipedia public domain