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5 Ways to Use Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

5 Ways to Use Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

If you follow basketball, there’s a 99.9 percent chance you’ve heard the name John R. Wooden, a sports legend who’s considered to be the greatest NCAA basketball coach of all time.

And if you’ve heard of Coach Wooden, you know about his Pyramid of Success, a wildly popular model of 25 proven behaviors and characteristics that lead to greatness. The Pyramid of Success is public domain; a Google search of the phrase yields a whopping 70 million results alone. So, once you’ve downloaded and printed Coach’s pyramid and looked at it for a while, you might wonder, “What are some good ways to use it?”

Here are five real-world ideas to start.

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Being asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone is an honor, but it can also be intimidating. Staring at a blank piece of paper and thinking about this person you respect and care about, you know you want to do a good job, but you just can’t seem to find the right words.

Enter the Pyramid of Success and its 25 behaviors that ensure success. Think about the person you’re writing about, look at the Pyramid of Success, and find the words that jump off the page. Enthusiasm. Skill. Poise. Team Spirit. Write the letter around those words and definitions. Done.

Behavior Interviewing

When we recruit people at my company, GoldenComm, I always conduct the initial interview. We call it the “culture call.” I explain that our company uses the Pyramid of Success as agreed-to behaviors that produce results. In the call, I focus on the pyramid’s cornerstones: industriousness and enthusiasm. Interviewees will hear me say, “People who do well here like to work hard, like to plan their days, and like Mondays because they have an entire week to compete at a high level.”

This eliminates over 50 percent of applicants—because they aren’t a culture fit. And, if they aren’t a culture fit, there’s no reason to get to the second interview.

Performance Evaluations

Our entire employee performance evaluation system is peer-based and focuses on behaviors from Coach’s pyramid. During evaluations, peers rank others’ behavior on a 1 to 5 scale. The employee gets to choose two people they work with, and the company also chooses two people, for a total of four peers. Since we’ve all agreed to these 25 behaviors, we each get to give feedback on how well we’re living these values.

The takeaway? Get the behaviors in place, and the technical part will take care of itself.

Project Evaluations

At GoldenComm, we also use ­the Pyramid of Success for our post-project evaluations. We’ve identified ten pyramid blocks that relate to project management:

  • Industriousness
  • Cooperation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Alertness
  • Initiative
  • Intentness
  • Skill
  • Team Spirit
  • Confidence
  • Competitive Greatness

Everyone who worked on the project takes a survey to rank where we did well and where we could improve, answering questions related to these ten blocks. Some blocks rank super high, and some rank not so high, spurring a dialogue on how to improve.

Self-Assessments

In addition to employee and project evaluations, each teammate at GoldenComm takes an online, 100-question assessment based on Coach Wooden’s pyramid. You can take a demo of the Pyramid of Success Individual Assessment, at no cost, with the option to take the full test and download a Personal Pyramid and 30-Day Playbook of self-study exercises.

Why is this important? As Coach would say, “The best way to improve the team is to improve myself.”


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by Jason Lavin // JASON LAVIN is a coach, speaker, and CEO with more than 25 years of experience enhancing the performance of individuals, teams, and organizations. As president of The John R. Wooden Course and CEO of Golden Communications, Lavin helps organizations—from youth sports teams to Fortune 100 companies—refine their values, mission, and vision. He is the co-author of Coach 'Em Way Up: 5 Lessons for Leading the John Wooden Way. Learn more at CoachEmWayUp.com.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.