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Visualising Success: The Wisdom of John Wooden

War, Peace and Organizational Ethics

ISBN: 978-1-83982-777-8, eISBN: 978-1-83982-776-1

Publication date: 17 September 2020


Alasdair MacIntyre’s path-breaking book After Virtue launched him into a place of prominence in social and moral philosophy. Two central, and still relevant, themes are identifiable in the corpus of MacIntyre’s work. First, advanced modernity is in a perilous state because of the philosophical creation of the emotivist self. Second, virtue must be reclaimed if the crisis in moral philosophy is to be addressed and an institutional world worthy of what we are as human beings is to be built. MacIntyre’s heroic effort in this regard is a new presentation of a Thomistic Aristotelianism but he was not naïve about the chances of his project’s success. Emotivism has made it extremely difficult for a virtue perspective to even gain a hearing. MacIntyre proposed a way forward different from abstract theorising. He felt that at this point we could, and had to, learn how to act from accounts of exemplary lives. This chapter presents the wisdom of legendary basketball coach John Wooden as a contribution to aid in the recovery of virtue. The central claim being made is that it is long overdue that John Wooden should take his rightful place in the virtue tradition in ethics. This work gives John Wooden’s conception of leadership that flows from his understanding of virtue the attention it deserves. The examination of John Wooden’s life undertaken bridges virtue theory and leadership. Several other key elements of MacIntyre’s thought set the structure of the inquiry. The chapter begins with a biographical sketch of Wooden’s life because of the stress that MacIntyre places on tradition and narrative unity. The basis of Wooden’s reflection on virtue, the tradition informing his practical reasoning, is a selected canon of Western civilisation, its great literature and the Bible. The Midwestern values of hard work, honesty, faith, and caring for one’s family are also significant. MacIntyre places great emphasis on the need to understand the story of a life and, in particular, the need to understand how development was aided or hindered in childhood and what kind of apprenticeship into a practice was available. The singular influence John Wooden’s father had on his life is documented. The role that John Wooden’s teachers, coaches and mentors played in initiating him into the practice of coaching is reviewed. The experiential base for Wooden’s derivation of his emotionally healthy definition of success and his well thought out conception of the virtues is thus put in place. MacIntyre summarises the teleological structure of human life and the role of virtue in human flourishing by contrasting man-as-he-happens-to-be with man-as-he-should-be-if-he-realised-his-essential-nature. John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success identifies the combination of personal qualities and values, virtues, that fulfil MacIntyre’s second term, that are intrinsic to reaching one’s potential as a person. The 15 qualities Wooden gives – industriousness, enthusiasm, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, condition, skill, team spirit, poise, confidence, competitive greatness – are defined and illustrated. The rationale for the qualities and for their placement into a coherent whole is discussed. Basic elements of John Wooden’s leadership genius are then brought out. Leaders need to get the culture right, build cohesive teams, and be guided by a moral topline.



Wishloff, J. (2020), "Visualising Success: The Wisdom of John Wooden", Schwartz, M. and Harris, H. (Ed.) War, Peace and Organizational Ethics (Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations, Vol. 23), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 73-100.



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