Coach Roy Williams—Traitor or Leader?
For the first 15 years of his career as head coach of the Kansas University men’s basketball team, not only was Roy Williams considered by Kansans and many others to be a great coach-he enjoyed a reputation as something more.
By Kelly Gerling
December 11, 2003
A Kansan’s perspective on Roy Williams (Part 1)
A Kansan’s perspective on Roy Williams (Part 2)
A Kansan’s perspective on Roy Williams (Part 3)
This article originally appeared in Carolina Blue’s print publication.
[Editor’s note: This Is Part One of a three-part article on Roy Williams’ leadership abilities and his decision to return to North Carolina, from the Kansan’s perspective.]
For the first 15 years of his career as head coach of the Kansas University men’s basketball team, not only was Roy Williams considered by Kansans and many others to be a great coach-he enjoyed a reputation as something more.
His reputation is easily summarized by legendary former UCLA coach John Wooden, who described Williams this way: “I know Roy cares much for his players as individuals…. The fact the he stayed there (in the year 2000)-and I know he was torn about going back to North Carolina, but he stayed at Kansas-says everything you need to know about how much he cares about those players.”
Wooden was referring to Williams’ decision to stay at Kansas after turning down an offer to coach at North Carolina, his former school and where he grew up.
Kansans viewed Williams as an intense, honest, emotionally open, nice guy whose teams epitomized teamwork. He was a leader who was gracious as a loser and humble as a winner.
Williams’ very-public, stressful, and difficult decision to change jobs and move from Kansas to North Carolina presents a unique opportunity to look into a leader’s inner world of thinking. Because stressful situations tell us much about someone’s leadership, examining how he handled his decision to leave KU let’s us determine if Williams actually deserved the positive reputation he had enjoyed
Part I- Is Williams a Traitor? [below] deals with the question of Williams’ reputation and whether he betrayed it and KU when he left Lawrence to go to North Carolina. PART II – Is Williams a Leadership Role Model? explores the extent to which Williams is a leadership role model and describes a theory of leadership from which to view Williams’ behavior. PART III- The Worldview of Roy Williamsdescribes Williams’ thinking and suggests ways people can learn to think more effectively as a leader by emulating his worldview.
PART I – Is Williams a Traitor?
The story of Roy Williams’ rise as a premier coach in college basketball goes back to Roberson High School where he played basketball, was elected student body president, and was voted “most dependable” by his classmates. After playing basketball at North Carolina and graduating, he began coaching in high school. Later, he took a job as an assistant under legendary North Carolina men’s coach, Dean Smith. There he became the 2nd assistant and learned all he could under his former coach and then mentor.
Meanwhile, back at Kansas, after winning the national championship in 1988, then Kansas coach Larry Brown left KU to coach in the NBA. University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith called KU’s athletic director and recommended his 2nd assistant, Roy Williams for the head coaching job there.
In a risky move, KU gave Williams the job and the Roy Williams era at KU began.
The rest is basketball history. During his time at KU, Williams was, to say the least, exceptionally effective as a coach in terms of winning. Only three coaches (Rupp, Bee and Tarkanian) have ever reached 400 victories in fewer games; his .805 winning percentage is best among active coaches; his 418 victories is second only to Phog Allen at Kansas; he has more Final Four appearances (four) than any other Kansas coach ever; his teams won nine of 15 Big Eight/Big 12 championships, while no other program won more than two during that period; only three active coaches (Knight, Krzyzewski and Olson) have more Final Four appearances; and his teams had 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, a record among active coaches exceeded only by Olson’s 19 at Arizona.
Williams’ record as a coach is an exceptionally good, competitive one. Other than not having yet won a national championship, no one would dispute his superb basketball record.
However, besides being an effective coach, many considered Williams to be a leader who set a morally sound example. He was a good, classy, compassionate person who kept his word, treated others well, worked hard, and lived right. He was an intense, emotional coach who often shed tears of appreciation at press conferences. He proved nice guys can win. And there was no sign of the moral or emotional problems that have led to the downfall of so many coaches.
The combination of his coaching success and his appeal as a leader and role model, made Roy Williams one of the most talked about, well-known persons in Kansas since he arrived there 15 years ago.
How Williams earned his reputation
Williams earned his reputation by doing lots of things well and making very few mistakes.
From the time he arrived at KU 15 years ago, as a “no name second assistant” – as he described himself – Williams worked to improve the already-great KU basketball program. He came on the heels of Larry Brown and his 1988 national championship.
Besides his tireless focus on basketball in terms of recruiting, practicing and playing games, he also did much more. In support of the KU basketball program he conducted weekly TV programs and countless media interviews; he supported the Special Olympics; he held reunions for former players; his player graduation rate was higher than any of the other Final Four teams the last two years; he did “Late Night with Roy Williams,” and he mentored his players after they left the program, continuing to help them develop as people, and more.
In the process, Williams exhibited four specific patterns of behavior as a leader: communicating authentically, carefully mentoring players, preventing public “bad behavior,” and responding to criticism non-defensively.
Williams Communicated Genuinely and Authentically
At his press conferences, in his television interviews, and during games Williams communicated authentically and genuinely.
He was outwardly joyous when things had gone well. He expressed appreciation and grief with equal emotional openness, sometimes being moved, or being sad, and in either case, sometimes coming to tears. Or he had tears of disappointment if a game turned out badly.
Williams was emotional. He came across even a bit corny at times. But he didn’t come off as phony or emotionally scripted. He said how he felt. He was congruent in that his words matched his emotions and his body language. For these reasons, many people perceived him as trustworthy, genuine, a person devoid without any phoniness.
Williams Mentored His Players
Williams mentors his players with his urging and example. An instance of this happened in late 2002 with Jeff Graves, one of his tall, inside players. Graves showed up for the 2002-2003 season more than a few pounds overweight. Williams had told him that 250 to 260 pounds was a proper playing weight. Graves agreed. Then he arrived at practice at the beginning of the season weighing about 290 pounds.
Williams gave him a requirement before he could fully participate as a player on the team: he must run a mile in 6:30. To help him do that Williams ran with him periodically until Graves was able to get his time down to 6:30, losing his weight in the process. The fact that Williams did more than tell Graves what to do… that he, at over 50 years old actually got out and ran with him, meant a great deal to Graves. And Graves went on to be a key player later in the season when star forward Wayne Simien got injured. Graves ended up starting and helped the team get to and nearly win the championship game.
We will never know how many little things Williams did for his current and past players to help make them successful in basketball, in school and in life. Certainly the 64 percent graduate rate his players enjoyed, tops in the last two Final Fours, and 10 percent over the KU’s general graduation rate, is support for the idea that Williams is a mentor as well as a basketball coach.
Williams Didn’t Behave Badly Very Often
Williams didn’t throw chairs across basketball courts nor throw ashtrays at office secretaries. He didn’t choke players. He didn’t abuse them verbally with profanities. He didn’t get drunk and behave inappropriately at parties with young women. He didn’t abandon his university job for orders of magnitude more millions in the NBA.
Not doing these kind of things has been a plus for Williams’ reputation in an atmosphere where such unfortunate behaviors are all too common.
Williams Responded Non-Defensively to Criticism
Coach Wooden once said that, “Many people do not listen to criticism. If so, that is their weakness.”
Williams, on a few occasions, did say things that offended people. When the criticism came back to him he rarely responded defensively. He listened and responded to earn forgiveness.
For example, after a high-scoring game last year with UCLA which KU won 99-98, Williams quipped, “Are you going to tell me you didn’t like this more than 19-17 at halftime…. We’re trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.” Williams was making reference to the halftime score of the 2000 NCAA national semifinal between Wisconsin and Michigan State, a game Wisconsin lost, 53-41.
Williams’ comments bothered people connected to the Wisconsin team. Williams did not respond to these criticisms with defensiveness or insensitivity. Rather, he said that he, “. . . tried to immediately say it was not anything against (their coach) Dick Bennett.” He said that he, “. . . wrote Dick a letter, and he wrote me back a nice note. He said he agreed with me the game of basketball had gotten too rough, but some people took it that I was just pointing at their one game.” Williams went on to say, “Dick knows how I feel because you cannot have any more respect for anybody than I have for Dick Bennett.” He added, “Bo Ryan (current UW coach), the job he did this year was great, too. I don’t think I have any problem with the Wisconsin basketball family, but there might be some people out there that didn’t appreciate what was said.”
Another one of Williams’ recruits, J.R. Giddens was accused of being part of a shoplifting incident. It came out in the paper. Williams was asked about it. He didn’t jump to conclusions. He didn’t defend Giddens. He supported him and in the end, Giddens with acquitted of any wrongdoing.
These incidents illustrate how a leader can maintain a good reputation. In the case of the Wisconsin controversy, instead of being defensive, Williams working hard to reconcile any problems resulting from his comments. In the case of Giddens, he waited.
These patterns of behavior, and his winning record, created his positive reputation. And then came the decision he had to make about North Carolina the first time around in the year 2000.
Williams’ Big Decision the First Time Around
When the UNC head coaching job opened up in the year 2000, Williams thought about it for a few days. He went through the process of making a major-life decision. In the end he said, “I’m staying” to a relieved and happy crowd at KU and (from a distance) to a sad and disappointed crowd in North Carolina. The decision angered several of his family members, he said later, and was a big sacrifice for him most of all. About a year later, Bob Frederick, Williams’ boss and the athletic director who hired him, was forced out and was replaced by Al Bohl after a nation-wide search. Bohl’s hiring was the beginning of two difficult years for Williams. The resulting atmosphere in the department according to Williams was not “cohesive.” Williams said, “. . . it was a difficult two years. I couldn’t wait to get on the court and away from the madness. The basketball court was my salvation.”
Three years went by from his “I’m staying” announcement. Williams coached. The Jayhawks won. New recruits signed on. During this period Williams’ teams prospered, reaching the Final Four in 2002 and 2003.
Through March, 2003, Williams seems to have maintained good relationships with people with whom there are real or potential problems. Based on public statements by many of his players, former players, fellow coaches and others, Williams had been consistent for 15 years at earning high levels of trust, respect and admiration from the many people he interacts with and influences. And then came the events that began April 1st, 2003.
Williams’ Decision the Second Time Around
When Matt Doherty resigned as head coach at UNC on April 1st, during last year’s NCAA tournament, the opportunity for being the head coach at UNC returned as both an ambush along his path for his first national championship and as an opportunity for his career and his life.
Reporters began asking Williams if he was going to stay at KU. He told them he wanted to focus on his players and helping them to prepare for their Final Four games. The reporters continued asking anyway.
Then came the firing of his boss, Al Bohl, and Bohl’s subsequent verbal attack against Williams (through a driveway press conference at his house.).
In reply to Bohl’s charge that he was a victim of his “hatred and vindictiveness,” Williams initially declined comment. After thinking about it he issued a statement that said, “It is always sad for the individual involved when a situation such as this occurs and a change is made. We had difficulties, and we were not as cohesive as the athletic department needs to be. This made the atmosphere somewhat difficult.
“Dr. Bohl tried extremely hard, and it is important now that we stop blaming individuals and pull together to be as successful as we can be.”
According to Robert Hemenway, KU’s Chancellor, Williams “never asked for Bohl’s removal.”
Williams could have attacked back and responded in kind, proving the accusation Bohl made a true one, but he didn’t. Later, Williams did say that Bohl, “. . . never did anything for me in two years” and that he didn’t want “to be like” him. Once again, Williams found ways to respond honestly to criticism, in this case criticism of the most vicious kind, without attacking back at his accuser in the same way he was attacked.
After the Bohl incident, Williams still had a decision to make-to stay or leave?
Reporters continued to ask Williams about the job in North Carolina. His team kept winning.
After defeating Marquette by a margin that could have easily been 50 points had he kept his best players in the game, KU made it from the Final Four to the final two-the game for the national championship. Williams and his team were full of hope at winning that elusive NCAA championship, which would be Williams’ first ever and KU’s first since 1988. That dream was not to be and KU lost in a close contest to Syracuse, a game not determined until the last KU shot missed at the buzzer.
Williams Uses Profanity
Immediately after that loss, while walking to the locker room to talk with his distraught players, Bonnie Bernstein, a CBS TV reporter asked him about the North Carolina head coaching job.
After saying once that he didn’t want to talk about it, she posed the question to him again, asking, “But if they offered the job right now, would you be willing to take it?” In a now legendary comment, Williams responded with a profanity, “I don’t give a s–t (expletive) about North Carolina right now!” he said. He then walked off to talk with his players after the biggest basketball loss of their lives.
Williams Mulled over his Decision
After that game, Williams took a few days to consider his future. Once again he had to make perhaps the most important decision of his life.
He wanted to balance his relationship between the KU basketball family and his UNC basketball family. He wanted to balance his relationship between his friends who were “the brothers” he didn’t have, with his relationship with his one remaining parent-his aging father-as well as with his ailing sister and his son, each of whom lives in North Carolina. He wanted to balance his loyalty to his mentor, coach Smith, with his loyalty to the recruits to whom he promised he would stay at Kansas. He wanted to balance his desire for his dream job and to return to his roots in North Carolina with his 15 years of success in a community in Kansas he loved. At one point in the process, at the prompting of his son, he also considered what he wanted when Scott said to him, “Dad, forget everything else. Do what you want to do.” At that time, he was still balancing and said in reply, “That’s the problem, Scott, I don’t know what I want to do.”
He kept thinking. He didn’t know the answer. This infernal plate-spinning-like balancing problem was one that he couldn’t solve, not in the short-term. After four days, he ran out of time, for at some point he believed that he was hurting people because of the amount of time he was taking to decide. I don’t think anyone could have solved it to everyone’s satisfaction, not if they cared about all the people Williams cared about as intensely as he did. He had to decide who to hurt, who to disappoint, who to make angry, and he didn’t want to hurt anyone. However, the nature of the situation was that people would be hurt, thousands of people. And it was complicated by the fact that all of this was being reported in the newspapers and on television every day, a stress most of us can’t imagine.
Williams finally decided that when the jet he was in landed on the way back from a trip to California that he would finally decide.
The jet landed. He chose North Carolina, or so he thought.
He then met with his current and some former players to tell them about his decision. Jeff Bosche was at that sad meeting. When asked what Williams said in the meeting, he said, “He just told us he loved us.”
He talked with reporters about his decision, trying to avoid getting into details, saying, “Fellas, thanks very much. All the junk that’s been going on, it’s been hard because people haven’t believed me as much as I would like them to believe me. But I felt like I owed everything to those 13 kids. Thanks for not pursuing it any farther further.” He then flew off to North Carolina for a press conference to announce his decision publicly.
In the hours leading up to the press conference in North Carolina, while Williams had made the decision, he didn’t feel relieved. He felt awful. He was in a state of agony. He threw up during the night. Tears continued to flow. He continued to waver. He later said he, “… went back and forth 5000 times.”
So high was the intensity of his commitment to his KU players that he said, “Other than the death or serious injury to my family members, I’ve never had more difficulty than this afternoon when I told those 13 young men I was leaving.”
Early in the morning, he saw a picture of Omar Wilkes, one of his recruits. That image prompted him to change his mind and picked up the phone to reverse his decision. But he didn’t make the call. In the end, Williams stuck to his decision.
Williams Attempts to Make Amends
During his North Carolina press conference, which was also aired live in Kansas City, he took the first 15 minutes and talked about the people who supported him in Kansas. He appreciated each of his players. He appreciated each of his four recruits. He said that he had been trying to call them and would continue to try later in the evening. He appreciated the people who welcomed him to Kansas and supported him there.
He was sad and tearful through much of the press conference. By the time he had finished he spoke glowingly about 35 people from Kansas, 46 people in all.
Near the end of his press conference, he looked at his new players and began his new relationship with them by saying, “I’m going to care about you guys [pointing] – and it’s not going to be just about the number of points and rebounds that you get. I’m going to care about you every day of your life, the way the greatest coach in the history of any level of basketball taught me to do.”
Soon after his press conference he traveled back to Kansas and attended the KU basketball banquet with players, coaches and their families followed by a public awards ceremony. He would be facing those whom his decision disappointed and angered.
Once he arrived back in Lawrence, he continued to support his former players. According to The Kansas City Star: “Williams arranged a meeting of three sports agents with departing seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich and their families in the Naismith Lounge. ‘With all that he had going on then, I really appreciated him doing that for me,’ Hinrich said.”
At the ceremony Williams got a standing ovation from a crowd of 2000. At one point, one person yelled, “traitor!” Apparently Williams had regained the trust of Nick Collison’s dad, Dave Collison, for he stood up and said to the heckler, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” The crowd apparently agreed with Mr. Collison. No more heckling. Williams told the crowd, “It was 15 fabulous years. And I hope that in time everybody will look at it like that, because regardless of what happens, it’ll be 15 fabulous years for me.”
In an evening characterized by applause, appreciation and ovations, the players seem to indicate that they forgave Williams for leaving. For example, Michael Lee, a sophomore guard on the team said, “We’re going through some tough times right now, but I want to say to coach Williams, ‘I love you.'”
In response to doubts about whether Williams was trying to lure his recruits to violate their commitment to KU, according to a newspaper account, “Williams reiterated that he hadn’t been tampering with KU recruits David Padgett and Omar Wilkes when he discussed them repeatedly during his introductory press conference Monday in North Carolina and during television interviews on Tuesday.”
Of that possibility, Williams said, “I’d give my left leg rather than take something away from Kansas.” Earlier in the day, he was even more emphatic, saying, “For someone to say I’m trying to do something negative to Kansas is like saying I’m trying to kill myself.”
He knew all the healing was not yet complete. He said, “Hopefully, time will heal the other hurts.” The restoration of Williams’ relationships in Kansas begun, but people continued to criticize him publicly.
Williams continued to give interviews to reporters who confronted him with the criticism of his own players.
Joe Posnanski, a reporter at The Kansas City Star, published an interview the day after the banquet and awards ceremony. He asked Williams this question: “Your players have been critical. You have heard Wayne Simien say he gave his right arm for you. You have heard Keith Langford say he did not come to Kansas for this. There were others. How do you respond?”
Williams said, “Players are like your children. They do things you disapprove of sometimes. They say hurtful things sometimes. But you don’t stop loving them…. They’re kids. And they’re hurt. I understand…. Wayne said he gave his right arm for me, I don’t think that’s right. I think he gave his right arm for his teammates. I think he gave his right arm for himself and his team. I love Wayne Simien. And I hope as time goes on, he will appreciate that I did everything I could for him. And I always will do everything I can for him.” [Williams cries again.] “I hope all my players realize that someday.”
Is Williams a Traitor?
There are over 3000 “Benedict Williams” T-shirts somewhere in Lawrence Kansas. Numerous critics accuse Williams of being a traitor. Others think he is not. So which is it? In light of the evidence, did Williams’ decision to go to North Carolina make him a traitor who betrayed KU?
To answer the traitor question we must clarify what the terms “traitor” and “to betray” mean. My dictionary says that a traitor “is one who betrays his country, cause, friends, etc.” and that to betray is “to deliver into the hands of an enemy by treachery, fraud, or unfaithfulness in violation of trust.”
Such a definition presupposes singularly selfish intentions such as money, fame or other personal gains, without regard to the effect his decision had on others.
What would Williams have had to do to be a traitor who betrayed those at KU who contradicted his prior good record as a leader?
If he had violated a contract to stay at KU he would have betrayed the contract and perhaps the integrity of his word.
If he left his players to take a job for more money when he already made over a million dollars a year then, he could be considered greedy, perhaps even a traitor in that he valued huge amounts of money over his commitments to his players.
If he had left in a steely cold, insensitive and unremorseful way, then, he might reasonably be considered as someone who didn’t care how others felt about his decision, perhaps even a traitor in an emotional sense.
But he didn’t do these things. He had no lifetime contract to stay at KU. He didn’t leave for money, or fame. He didn’t leave in a cold, insensitive, unremorseful way.
He left to be with his father, his sister, his son. He took his wife back home to her roots. He left to be with his mentor, coach Smith. He returned to be at his old school, his basketball roots. Williams did break a commitment he made to his players and recruits to stay at KU during their tenure as players. However, he broke that commitment to deepen another commitment to his immediate family members in North Carolina and his extended “family” there as well.
He had to abandon one group of people or reject another group of people, both of whom he cared deeply about. It was an unresolvable dilemma. In the short term there was no win-win solution possible for Williams. The genuineness of Williams’ loyalty to both sides of this conflict is apparent in the difficult struggle he went through in making the decision. Still, he attempted to balance all the factors he considered. He cared. He showed remorse. He said he “felt like” he betrayed his recruits. He wavered. He vomited.
There were critics who wrote letters to the editor, editorials and public statements who insisted that Williams was disloyal and betrayed people in Kansas; that he was full of “hatred and vindictiveness”, that he was “just a basketball coach” who “lied” to them and “in one week destroyed everything that he built in the 15 years he was at KU;” who said that “Roy should be shown our disgust.” These critics were insisting that Williams be loyal to KU alone while not considering his own family members-his aging father (his only surviving parent), his sister who has been ailing, his son, his mentor, coach Smith, his roots, his original basketball family, and his loyalty to himself and his own preferences.
Because of the personal and legitimate factors Williams struggled with in making his decision, the expectation by Kansans and other critics alike that he stay at KU no matter what was selfish. The fact that KU fans in the Midwest got to enjoy having Williams as the KU basketball head coach for 15 years, is worthy of appreciation, not criticism, in light of the evidence.
While looking into the future, there is a test to determine whether Williams was genuine in his struggle with his decision to stay or leave. Williams has a plaque on his desk that someone gave him as a gift. It says, “Statistics are important but relationships last forever.” Kansas City Star reporter Joe Posnanski says that Williams says “it is what defines him.”
If indeed he is true to the slogan on his desk, that “relationships last forever” then he will work hard to maintain relationships with former colleagues, players, recruits and friends at KU, and will develop new ones with equal trust, respect and closeness in his new job and location.
Through his agonizing, tearful struggle to decide, and the great effort he made to maintain his relationships and minimize harm, Williams’ did just that. He worked hard and showed how much he cared for the people affected by his decision. And his actions since then demonstrate that he still cares in spite of the criticism aimed at him. This is not betrayal. It is loyalty. It is human. It is sensible. Williams is not a traitor. He is a great coach and a good, loyal person who changed jobs.
PART II – Is Williams a Leadership Role Model?
In addition to Williams being a loyal person and coach, I believe he is also a good leader, one who demonstrates a wide range of effective leadership behavior. I’ll use Williams’ behavior to illustrate particular dimensions of thinking that are important to leading and leadership, for thinking is the heart of leadership. Below I’ll examine some of his words and actions, especially those that are consistent over time and get an idea of how he thinks across these dimensions.
Part of effective leadership behavior, by any leader who would become a role model is restraint. That is, having a mental process that restrains harmful behavior. Williams has not been perfect in this respect, although perfection is not the standard. For any leadership role model, bad behaviors should be infrequent and the leader should be effective at correcting any harm caused through effective and genuine apologies
The first issue is his decision to leave KU. In the storm of public commentary here in the Midwest, there has been and still is a great deal of varying opinion as to whether Williams’ process of making his decision to leave his job at KU to go to UNC confirms or negates his superb reputation as a coach, a leader, and as a person. I suggest that the evidence indicates that not only is Williams not a traitor, but that, given the factors he considered in making his decision his behavior was exemplary. He was particularly restrained in responding to the criticism aimed at him.
I believe that bitter criticisms of Williams say much more about the critics who wrote them than about Williams. If anyone is a traitor, it is the critics-in presuming to know how Williams should decide between his ailing sister, and aging father and the people at KU, they have betrayed their capacity for empathy. Williams’ continued calm, non-defensive approach in response to this kind of bitter criticism is a tribute to his effectiveness as a leader.
Through his success both on and off the court, Williams has earned the right to be considered a leadership role model. But in order to explore this idea in more depth and determine exactly what is being modeled and how to learn the outer and inner aspects of leadership, it is important to define exactly what leadership is, and what it isn’t.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve been specializing as a leadership development consultant in organizations. The work I do is based on theories of cognitive science, theories of leadership, explorations of the thinking of exemplary effective leaders and my experience of what works in my client organizations. What I describe below is a brief description of a concept of leadership based both on history and on the practical requirements of creating descriptions of learnable leadership skills.
What is Leadership Anyway?
The folk definition of leadership suggests that a leader is a person who influences others to achieve a goal. This folk definition creates serious problems for any decent theory of leadership, for it creates the dilemma of determining who is a more effective “leader,” Gandhi or Stalin. Because their methods are so far apart as to occupy different moral universes, it is better to define leadership in such a way as to specify a single, coherent set of methods. The way I do that is to distinguish between leaders and rulers. Both rulers and leaders have accomplished great things. For managers or activists, politicians or parents, heads of state or head coaches, two distinct sets of methods of influencing others have emerged over the course of human history.
One set of methods of influencing others-what I call leading-includes persuasion, inspiration, building trust, mentoring, listening to problems, requesting changes in behavior, apologizing, negotiation, appealing to what others value, open and honest communication, respectful diplomacy, reconciliation, friendship, warm-hearted love, and other similar patterns. These methods come from a worldview based on mutually beneficial cooperation. This set of methods tends to exclude coercion in all of its forms, except as a last resort as part of the rule of law. A leader then is someone who pursues causes based on cooperation using cooperative methods to lead allies in a common direction, refraining from coercion and other methods of domination, and hopefully converting bystanders and opponents along the way to join the cooperative cause.
The other set of methods includes all the above-mentioned cooperative methods but also includes force, coercion, intimidation, threats that induce fear, deception, cold-hearted abuse and other familiar patterns of action. These latter methods are easy to understand, for we’ve all been on the receiving end of them to one degree or another, and seen them portrayed in books, TV programs and movies. These methods come from a worldview based on fantasies of domination. I call this set of methods ruling. At their worst, rulers who influence others with these methods are tyrants-at best, they are bossy authoritarians, however charismatic they may be. A ruler then is someone who pursues causes based on domination, using dominating methods of ruling (as well as cooperation at times) to influence followers in a direction desired by the ruler, and defeating enemies whenever possible along the way. While ruling includes some cooperative methods, coercion in its various forms is not constrained and rulers pursue win/lose goals.
Summing up these two distinct sets of methods and corresponding roles, the leadership historian James MacGregor Burns wrote, “A leader and a tyrant are polar opposites.” These differing roles and their corresponding methods play out constantly in the typical conflicts and interactions in organizations, in politics, in social movements, and, most visibly, in world affairs. They come from two differing but universal aspects of human biology and human culture. Dominating through ruling comes from our long history as hunters. It was amplified and enhanced by cultural evolution that rewarded groups that conquered other groups and could defend themselves. Villages, tribes, even nations, that were not good at methods of domination often got conquered, enslaved, expelled, incorporated, or eliminated entirely. On the other hand, Cooperating through leading comes from another source-our biological heritage as mammals that nurture our children in a long, caring, close relationship with one or both parents. This cooperative, nurturing morality was and is amplified by the human desire for happiness through close, meaningful relationships where a deep win-win mutuality benefits the doer even as it benefits the other.
It is important not to confuse the two, especially because rulers, like hunters, like to camouflage their role, posing as rulers in a leader’s clothing, so they look like they are pursing the best for all. However, deception is key to ruling while honesty is fundamental to leading.
In leading, cooperative methods are both the means to fulfilling a leader’s causes and the way means and ends merge into a consistent whole of a well-travelled journey of change.
Leaders are people who use cooperative methods pursue cooperative causes-causes that go beyond their own personal interests in order to serve the interests and fulfill the values of others. Leaders can have any career role in addition to their leadership role. Leaders can be politicians, executives, managers, business owners, teachers, parents, activists, or, as this article attempts to demonstrate, a leader can be a coach.
Stalin was a ruler. Gandhi was a leader. Rulers and leaders, and their methods, show up in every walk of life. Rulership is the field of study of how to rule effectively. Leadership is the field of study of how to lead effectively. When we actually define leaders, leading and leadership with clarity in terms of cooperative methods, we can approach learning leadership like we would approach learning a sport-that is, we can figure out the behavioral and mental aspects that an effective person uses and then practice them, recognizing that in every case, fulfilling the leader’s causes requires relationships with intense bonds of respect and caring.
Sports happens to be an area of life where the polar opposites of ruling and leading play out clearly in public view. Basketball coaches come in both varieties, and the history of basketball tells us that great records in terms of winning percentages, championships and effective teams can arise from coaches who use tyrannical ruling or warm-hearted leading.
Basketball, golf, and many other sports, have clear rules, and are well-defined human activities. Because of how clearly sports are defined, there is no difficulty determining who are the best basketball players and golfers. This clarity allows us to study the Michael Jordans and Annika Sorenstams and learn their patterns. Leading is much like a physical sport in its focus on action and the thinking that underlies action.
Leaders are people who pursue causes that go beyond their own personal interests in order to serve the interests and fulfill the values of others. Leaders can have any career role in addition to their leadership role.
To enable a leader to use those moves effectively in pursuit of his or her causes, leadership involves a variety of external “moves” within a variety of “domains” or “fields,” what I call leadership situations
The causes the great leaders design and pursue operate in these three sets of situations: interpersonal, organizational and collective.
Here is how I define them:
Interpersonal Situations: Leaders use cooperative methods to create and maintain interpersonal relationships. These methods include listening for problems, coaching, mentoring, negotiating, mediation, giving speeches, reconciliation, teamwork, forgiveness, apologizing, requesting help with problems, and appreciating the accomplishments of others.
Organizational Situations: Using interpersonal situations as a foundation, leaders create organizations and enhance them, helping organizations learn and grow. They engage in a range of leadership methods including methods of compensation, rewards, appreciation, group communication, group problem-solving and promotion.
Collective Situations: Leaders, as they develop and mature, sometimes extend their causes beyond interpersonal and organizational situations to focus on collective situations that are larger than any one relationship or organization. They use their network of relationships and connections to organizations to develop new causes to benefit others in a broader, collective way, one that includes more people and even future generations.
The greatest leaders, people like Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, achieved their greatest impact on others beyond their immediate interpersonal relationships and organizations-to the larger world. Even in coaching, the best leaders sometimes set such a fine example and promote their ideals and methods so well that they have in influence on collective concerns. Former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden has influenced, not only his players and a generation of coaches, but also remains a cultural icon who represents the proposition that a good, nice human being can be a powerful, effective competitor. I’d put Coach Dean Smith in that class as well.
Leadership Requires Complex Thinking
Leaders pursue causes across interpersonal, organizational and collective situations requires elaborate, exceedingly complex thinking. So what is complex human thinking?
To describe complex human thinking, the most intricate, mysterious set of processes in the known universe, it is necessary to have a theory of some kind. The trouble is, there are hundreds of them-theories of thinking, and of personality, along with many kinds of research and evidence. I have made a study of various branches of cognitive science to develop a practical, understandable, usable model of complex human thinking with one purpose in mind-to help understand and learn from effective leaders who are available for study. Here is a summary of that model:
Understanding Complex Thinking
Starting in infancy, each person experiences the world around them through consciousness-the integrated display of sights, sounds, body movements, tastes and smells, including the emotions that assign value to what we experience. Very early in life we begin taking these various scenarios of meaning and action and blend them together into new mental scenarios-scenarios that includes one’s self as a viewer and “owner” of the integrated scenario. The beginning of this construction of scenarios is apparent to each of us at the appearance of our first “memory” around the age of three.
Each person continues to create new blended scenarios that enable us to make meaning, to plan and to operate in our culture. For example, a child moves along a path to a pond to catch fish. This specific, real-time scenario of walking to the pond becomes a more generic and creates a scenario of creating a career as movement along a path towards a goal. The same child then gets older and moves along through school to create a career.
These new, blended mental scenarios are distinct and separate from the real-time scenarios we experience when we look at and listen to the outer world. Comprehending and producing the simplest sentences is impossible without such blending of mental scenarios. Our ability to blend mental scenarios into to new ones is what distinguishes our thinking from that of any other species on the earth.
Such scenarios as moving down a path towards a goal and many others form a growing set of interlocking mental scenarios. The way we function with money, language, mathematics, scales of time and space, and more, requires blending mental scenarios. The whole collection of mental scenarios that we inherit from our culture and our family combine together to form the inner worldview in which each of us lives and through which we conceive of the outer world.
This worldview becomes then the set of “lenses” through which we organize our world, including our most fundamental perceptions and meanings. As a whole, each person’s worldview consists of a number of dimensions of thinking. While the contents, settings and dynamics of those dimensions vary from person to person, the dimensions themselves, because they are based on our common biology, are universal.
An inner theater of thinking for planning action scenarios
Leaders face real situations to which they must respond. In between particular situations they each face and their habitual responses to those situations, lies an inner world of thinking. They can enter their inner world while thinking and rather than responding out of habit, they can plan a creative, effective response to the situation they face if they choose to do so.
When leaders enter their inner world to plan action scenarios, they combine many of their various dimensions of thinking into optimized, “balanced” scenarios that further their causes.
To find such balanced, cooperative scenarios of action, effective leaders constantly fiddle with and adjust their thinking while searching for win/win (or multiple-win) scenarios. Once they get the signal from their values that they are either out of time or that their scenario of action is a good one, they make their scenario their plan. When the time is right for action they implement it. Such a mental process is the basis for leadership intelligence.
By beaming the searchlight of conscious attention on the inner dimensions of thinking, leaders can consciously become the main character in their own inner world theater as well as its director. To read a summary of some of the key dimensions of human thinking, see the box titled: The Dimensions of Worldview
Dimensions of Worldview-The Thinking of Leaders and Rulers
|Dimensions of Worldview||Leaders||Rulers|
|System of Valuing – A system deep within the brain that creates emotions which guide behavior and attention towards goals, and evaluates whatever is the focus of attention.||Leaders value cooperation for the benefit of self and others. They are moved emotionally by trusting, respectful, and honest relationships and seek to bring about such relationships. They value win/win/win cooperative solutions to problems for self, others and society, and pursue such problems as a first resort. They enjoy forms of art that portray cooperative values. They want to help their allies, and convert their opponents to their cause. Leaders consider violence and deception morally wrong and against their conscience.||Rulers value domination for the benefit of self and close friends and family members. Failing to be moved by the simple pleasures of good relationships as an equal among equals, they have a tendency to be moved emotionally by the booby prizes of life: dominating and inflicting pain on others, ingesting drugs, accumulating wealth as a symbol of superiority, the illusion of absolutely certain knowledge, exaggerated importance attributed to self or their superiors, entertainment that focuses on dominating or ?inning,?sexual exploitation, and their synthesis into blended activities that incorporate many of them at once. In relationships, they value obedience and loyalty In pursuit of their causes, they value the methods of violence and deception if they can get away with using them.|
|Conception of Self – This is a sense of self as the central, main character in the story of one’s life. Sometimes this self includes extensions of the body-based self such as images of the soul, the nation and others.||Each leader conceives of himself or herself, consciously and unconsciously, as a good, worthwhile person. They have healed many of the psychological wounds that might have prevented their sense of self-worth from being positive, or their self-narrative from being a character who helps create a better, more cooperative world.||Each ruler conceives of himself or herself consciously as a superior, important person, and unconsciously as an unimportant, worthless person. Rulers fail to consciously heal the wounds others inflicted on them, therefore they retain a general feeling of desire to dominate others as a means of unconscious revenge for unhealed humiliations and abuses.|
|Conceptions of Others –These are the varied positive, negative, indifferent ways of representing others including understanding their thought processes.||Leaders see others realistically, with a bias that enables them to perceive goodness in them, even when they behave badly. This enables them to seek cooperative solutions to conflicts, when others are not initially cooperative. The key way they categorize others are as allies, neutral parties to inspire, and opponents to convert. They use similarities in others to help their allies and neutral parties to convert their opponents.||Rulers conceive of others in three primary categories: superiors to be obeyed, followers to manipulate and enemies to dominate. They will use available differences in others such as gender, race, nationality, age or religion as an excuse to turn their followers away from their enemies.|
|Conceptions of Interactions – These are the different ways of conceiving of interactions between self and others as well as between others.||Leaders plan and perform cooperative interactions as methods of pursuing causes. Their favored interactions include appreciating, coaching, listening to problems, bringing up problems for discussion, win/win negotiating, mediating, mentoring, consensus, apologizing, and speaking to groups to inform and inspire. Coercion of any kind is a last resort and then leaders prefers it be used within a framework of the rule of law or negotiated agreements.||Rulers also plan and perform coercive interactions as methods of pursuing their causes. Their favored interactions include coercion, deception, character assassination, quid pro quo agreements, violence (when it can be done with impunity), hate-mongering, theft, bribery, and charismatic, heroic speeches.|
|Boundaries of Identity –a shifting sense of ‘I’ versus ‘we.’||Leaders develop flexible boundaries of identity to include ever-growing sense of “we” in an expanding circle of cooperation. In the most highly-developed leaders, their sense of “we” includes not only their organization, but their region, nation and others everywhere in the world.||Rulers keep their boundaries of identity rigidly focused on their immediate circle of friends and family members. Thus, they maintain a we/they or us/them competitive relationship with others.|
|Conceptions of Time –They consist of past, present and future and various cultural scales of time from seconds to centuries and how the individual uses them.||Leaders develop a rich view of the past and future as coherent stories, that are based on evidence, and that support their cooperative causes. They use this view of the future to guide their causes to benefit not only others in the present and near future, but also others in future generations. They often use shifts in time to activate memories of scenarios that are similar to the experiences of others. That enables leaders to experience empathy for others.||Rulers develop a view of the past and future, that is largely mythic without much concern for evidence, and that supports their causes of domination. They use their view of the past and future to further their quest for maintaining and expanding their power.|
|Conceptions of Space –near and far, here and there||Leaders develop a rich view of near and far away places in order to support the expansion of their cooperative causes. They use this view to guide their causes to benefit not only others who are nearby, but also for others who are far away.||Rulers develop a view of near and far away places in order to support the expansion of their causes of domination.|
|Symbolic Reasoning –Using language, logic and other systems of symbols to create, interpret and communicate a variety of scenarios.||Leaders use systems of symbolic reasoning such as metaphor, blended scenarios and logic to support their values and their particular causes. For example, rather than using metaphor to demonize their opponents, they choose metaphors that highlight the benefits of cooperation, and motivate their allies through hope and realistic fear.||Rulers use systems of symbolic reasoning to further their causes of domination. They often use metaphors of war, domination, and humiliation to demonize their enemies and to motivate their followers through unfounded fear, whether in business , government or via activist movements.|
|Point of View – The place and time from which a person views a given mental scenario. The English pronoun system organizes point of view through the literary distinctions of first person, second person (the Other’s point of view), and third person, (an objective observer’s point of view).||Leaders use their point of view by shifting it from the default position of their own body, to the point of view of others. In the rich and detailed inner world of human thinking, once a scenario is removed from the constraints of real-time consciousness, a person can “run the scenario” from any point of view. Leaders use point of view to create empathy for others by shifting to the point of view of specific others. To create objectivity, they shift point of view to a neutral position and view the situation from the outside. They keep varying their point of view while pursuing a balance, cooperative, optimized scenario.||Rulers use their point of view differently than leaders do, preferring to see from their own point of view. That’s because they believe their opponents and their followers are of less worth and therefore their perspective, their values, their feelings, and their interests are not very important except as a means to help them further their own causes of domination.|
|Focus of Attention – The place and time towards which a person views a mental scenario||Leaders use their focus of attention according to the guidance of their system of valuing. While creating planning scenarios, they focus on a wide range of interactions, the values of others, and their own values and causes. They keep shifting their attention, much like they shift their point of view, in order to create a balanced, cooperative, optimized scenario for action.||Rulers use their focus of attention according to the guidance of their system of valuing. They focus primarily on how to influence others to fulfill their own values.|
|Conscience – This is the result of a process of integrating the various dimensions of thinking in order to judge what is right and wrong. In leaders, conscience creates a desire to do what is right and beneficial for everyone affected by a decision, if possible.||Leaders develop a conscience as a result of a complex process of creating mental planning scenarios. When the above-mentioned dimensions are combined to develop a range of planning scenarios, at some point they integrate into a coherent whole. This whole scenario as a plan, represents what is the right thing to do. And leaders feel compelled to do what they have planned. Their plan along with their feeling that it is right and that they need to do it is their conscience. The conscience of a leader is developed through a complex process of thinking that is often customized for each unique situation, and aimed at helping others minimizing harm.||Rulers develop a conscience as a result of a simple process of obeying the voice of an external authority or obeying a compelling feeling that comes from an external authority. Rather than having to engage in a complex process of thinking to develop a mental plan that takes into account the values of all the people involved of affected by an action, they merely follow the rules spoken by their internalized superior, whether it is their father, a scripture deemed as the truth, or an order from their superior.|
PART III- The Worldview of Roy Williams
Roy Williams’ Worldview-How he thinks
Given that thinking causes behavior, it is important to examine the thinking Williams’ uses to create his behavior.
His restraint and his positive actions (along with winning basketball games) brought about his positive reputation as a leader. While I don’t think a magazine article can accurately capture the whole of Williams’ thinking, I will offer a map as an overview of his key thinking patterns. I hope the patterns in this description will enable you to understand Williams’ thinking and recognize some ways to emulate Williams by enhancing your own thinking.
In the case of Roy Williams, focusing on values is a good way to begin. Williams is well-known for heart-felt, sometimes tearful statements at his press conferences and post-game interviews. Sometimes his are tears of appreciation, as was the case in his North Carolina press conference , speaking of people at KU. Sometimes his are tears of disappointment after a loss.
The Values of Roy Williams
Coach Williams has a warm heart that sometimes gently weeps. What do his tears mean? Do they mean, as so many boys (and girls) are often told, the he is “a cry baby” or in some way weak or unmanly? I think not.
I think a particular moment early in Gandhi’s life (and his later interpretation it) illustrates one of the sources of his strength. While I am not suggesting that the cause of freeing India from British rule is somehow equal to coaching a basketball team, I do think that there are similarities between Williams’ thinking and his sense of inner strength and the thinking and inner strength of Gandhi. Early in his life, Gandhi experienced how tears and their ability to help bring about reconciliation of a problem between he and his father.
When he was 15, Gandhi stole a bit of gold from his brother. Consumed with guilt, he confessed to his father. He wrote his confession on a note saying (in his autobiography), “In this note, not only did I confess my guilt, but I asked adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offense. I also pledged not never to steal in (the) future. . . . He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. . . . I also cried. I could see my father’s agony. . . . Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is. As the hymn says: ‘Only he Who is smitten by the arrows of love, Knows its power.'” Gandhi went on to say that, ” . . . he was so wonderfully peaceful . . . my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure.”
One of the keys to Gandhi’s inner strength as a leader was his ability to experience the emotions of grief and deeply felt appreciation.
In the case of Roy Williams, his good leadership behavior for 15 years is a consequence of how he uses the key dimensions in his inner world. A key dimension to Williams’ thinking then are his values.
In Williams, there is a link between his open expression of his values-his simple honesty and transparent grief, his depth of caring and high-intensity commitment to creating and maintaining close, trusting relationships.
To understand someone’s thinking we need to understand the settings of these dimensions and how they interact.
To understand the linkage between the open expression of healing emotions and inner strength, I want to describe what cognitive science has to say about values.
Our Human Values
Everyone has a set of values, or better said, a system of valuing. Our system of valuing creates our emotions which both guide our actions and evaluate whatever we focus our attention upon. This valuing system gets established in our early years, and it evaluates everything from the temperature with which we are comfortable, to our sense of self and our dreams in life. As adults, we can modify, enhance and strengthen our values, mainly by healing the pains and wounds of the past and by creating rewarding and meaningful relationships.
The heart of each system of valuing is located in a deep, older part of the every human brain in an area in and around the locus coeruleus. These areas of the brain stimulate emotions that evaluate every aspect of conscious experience, including one’s self. According to Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, Gerald Edelman, in this part of the brain, “neural value systems”, engage in “signaling to neurons and synapses all over the brain . . . producing a sudden burst of firing whenever something important or salient occurs.” The neurons in this area of the brain, “give rise to a vast meshwork of axons that blanket the cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and spinal cord, potentially influencing transmission of billions of synapses over all levels of the central nervous system.” Edelman goes on to say that, “Value and emotions, pleasant and unpleasant, are obviously coupled and are central to conscious experience.” (See his book, A Universe of Consciousness, p. 88-91.)
Values-violation feelings, so-called “negative” emotions like anger and fear, can get connected to any part of any scenario in the theater of consciousness, even the main character of that theater, the personal self. Sometimes these connections persist through time. As every infant demonstrates, when a violation or frustration of some important value happens, crying or feeling sad is one way to respond. This deeply rooted biological response is not weakness, it is strength. The convulsive processes in the body that produce our tears tend to disconnect feelings like fear, frustration or anger from the mental scenarios to which they had been connected. Once that happens, people are able to experience the natural, cooperative motive to forgive other’s misdeeds and their own as well. Warm, loving, appreciative feelings then emerge to take the place of fear, frustration or anger.
Williams Has Cooperative Values
Can we describe the valuing system of Roy Williams? Yes. By observing his behavior over time and noting what is actually important to him, it is possible to describe his or anyone else’s system of valuing.
Williams once said that, “I like people so much that I don’t want to do anything wrong in anyone’s eyes.” That is a healthy, strong, and powerful conscience speaking. Intensely valuing people, integral to Williams’ thinking, while it causes seemingly endless, agonizing scenarios of thought, also helps him desire to balance multiple webs of relationships. In the end, such valuing bears the fruit of trust, respect and love. I think his behavior while making this decision exemplifies his values.
Williams Has A Healthy Sense of Self
Williams often expresses what he values with a genuine honesty that allows real grief and hurt and pain and caring and love just as openly as he expresses confidence and joy. Therefore, Williams doesn’t define his sense of worth as a person by coaching or team success alone-his sense of self is strong enough to weather the storms of losses, allowing him to focus on the joys of accomplishments and of the journey itself. In addition, his sense of self so secure that it places others interests as equally important to his own
How did Williams sense of self get strong in this way?
I have a guess.
I don’t know if anyone ever told young Roy as a boy, “If you don’t quit crying, I’ll give you something to cry about!” I doubt he every suffered from such at assault on his feelings as a child. However, if Williams was an the receiving end of that kind of treatment, he found a way to heal and he was able to recover his cooperative values-his empathy for others; his desire for respect and trust; his humanity; indeed, he recovered his unashamed willingness to express whatever he feels in front of others, even tears of appreciation or sadness. This is an honest thing to do, a way of communicating that builds trust. It is one of Roy Williams’ great strengths. He is open emotionally.
The Other Dimensions in Williams’ Worldview
Values and the self are the ever-present aspects of Williams’ worldview led him not only to desire to treat others so well in his 15 years at KU. His values and strong sense of self also led him thought the process of deciding to leave KU and created his actions during and after that decision-under such great stress that this decision is a good case study of leadership thinking, for rarely do we get to observe such a decision by an effective leader. In the theater of Williams’ mind here is how he used key dimensions of his thinking. He continually varied them, producing many scenarios of a win-win solution to the decision. As he integrated the scenarios, he formed his best choice or least worse choice and chose it.
Conceptions of Others
Williams’ cooperative values and his strong, healthy sense of self allows him to create positive conceptions of others, enabling him to care deeply for others, and to restrain himself from criticizing or abusing others even when they criticize and abuse him and his reputation.
His intense concern for people in Kansas, North Carolina was presupposed in his behavior towards, seemingly, everyone he interacted with. Even when he didn’t like the cohesiveness of the KU basketball program under his boss, athletic director, Al Bohl, he didn’t ask the Chancellor to replace him with someone else, when he certainly had the power to do so. After Bohl accused him of having ?atred and vindictiveness? he had enough positive regard for Bohl to limit his reactions to criticizing his behavior, saying he, “never did anything for me,” and saying he didn’t want “to be like” Bohl. Other than that he publicly expressed concern for Bohl.
Williams was less restrained when defending his players from abusive criticism from KU fans. He once said, “The fans who are negative don’t even have the right to be the wallpaper on the wall. . . . As far as I am concerned they do not exist.” This was a response to bitter criticism of one of his players, Eric Chenowith. It was an offensive remark. It is important to recognize that he publicly apologized to offended fans and, in the end, won them back. The key idea here is that in the heat of anger, Williams has said a few fairly harsh things about people, but always (to my knowledge) came back to rectify the situation with an apology. This only happens because he conceives of other as fundamentally positive, as part of his extended “family,” and therefore people with whom he has a long-term relationship. So when he messes up, he tends to want to fix the mess. (I suspect he doesn’t want to do to others what he might have felt his father did to his mother, his sister, and him when his parents divorced, and his father left home, when he was in the sixth grade.)
Conceptions of Interactions
Planned interactions are the primary methods leaders use to pursue their causes.
On the basketball court, while watching Williams’ intensity-a kind of controlled rage-he obviously wants his team to perform as close to 100 percent as possible. Within the confines of the game of basketball, he is competitive. However, the comments after losses indicates that more important than winning is the journey of learning itself, the relationships that last through time, the development that comes from having given the job the best effort he could muster.
Since he values cooperation in interactions, not only do his teams play with great, cooperative teamwork, as coach Wooden has pointed out, he also values the leadership interactions over rulership interactions. He would rather mentor than scold, apologize rather than blame, forgive rather than harbor resentment, find a way of not hurting anyone rather than maximizing his personal gain. This generates a deep loyalty from players and colleagues, for they know he cares about them more than he cares about his own selfish agenda, his particular goals.
Boundaries of Identity
Human identity starts with a child/mother bond. From the beginning then, the boundaries within which a person identifies, under conditions of a nurturing interaction, include the mother. As a person emerges from infancy, “psychological birth” happens, and the human sense of self develops about the age of five. A person who has been nurtured naturally and cooperatively, (or has healed the psychological wounds from not being nurtured naturally and cooperatively) has an easy time of extending the boundaries of concern, of empathy, into a “we” that goes beyond boundaries of the skin.
A typical way a leader extends his or her boundaries is through creating a body-based blended scenario. In the case of Williams, this is evident when he said, “I would give up my left leg before I’d take anything away from the University of Kansas.” (Williams had been accused of trying to lure his KU recruits, Padgett and Wilkes to North Carolina.) To create the scenario in Williams’ mind, he used his body to provide one input scenario, the University of Kansas as a whole as a second input scenario. In the new blended scenario, KU is a part of a very large body. This emergent scenario creates a sense of identification with KU that assigns the same kind of importance to the institution and the people in it that he assigns to his own body, in this case his left leg. He does this consistently, once saying that he had more desire for winning in ?is little finger?than all the KU fans put together had in their whole bodies.
Extending his boundaries of identity creates an intense commitment to and connection with others in the category of “we,” “us,” and “family.” For this reason, Williams’ connections with people has such a sustained, passionate power.
Conceptions of Time
Williams has a long-term sense of time when it comes to his relationships with people. It reminds me of something Phog Allen, another KU basketball coach, once said, when asked how he evaluated his team’s success. He said, “Ask me in 10 years.”
Williams told his new players, at his press conference in North Carolina: “I’m going to care about you every day of your life, the way the greatest coach in the history of any level of basketball taught me to do.” (Referring to coach Smith.) The phrase “every day of your life” refers to each player’s whole life, beyond basketball, during which he will care for them and their success as a mentor and friend. This commitment to the long-term is what creates the bonds of loyalty Williams has with others. Williams has Phog Allen’s and Dean Smith’s kind of long-term view of his player’s development as successful individuals.
Conceptions of Space
Williams’ concern for and respect for others extends across wide spaces. His effusive appreciation for people he had worked with at KU expressed at his North Carolina press conference was an unusual way to show this sense of compressed space. Williams said, “I was a Tar Heel born. When I die, I’ll be a Tar Heel dead. But in the middle, I have been Tar Heel and Jayhawk-bred. And I am so, so happy and proud of that.”
The forming of conceptual scenarios and then blending them into new emergent scenarios happens by a range of human capabilities. Our use of symbolic reasoning, the most obvious of which is language, is but one of many ways we form concepts. Language has many inherent, embedded forms of symbolic reasoning that, when understood, helps both leaders and leadership researchers describe the way symbolic reasoning serves whatever system of valuing and sense of self a person happens to have. (The field of cognitive linguistics provides a comprehensive description of these of forms of reasoning. To look into this further look in the work of George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier.)
Williams uses symbolic reasoning processes, specifically, metaphor, when he thinks of people involved in a basketball program as a family. And he does this to further the causes to which he is devoted as a leader.
So when Williams referred to people knew at KU and UNC as families, he activates within himself a blended mental, metaphorical scenario that all these people with whom he has been involved for his entire adult life, both in Kansas and in North Carolina, are people with whom he is permanently connected; people who are family members.
Williams’ inner world activities are scenarios of people getting along well, scenarios of teamwork on the court and the “cohesiveness” within his basketball “family” at KU.
Point of View
Williams does this so deeply and thoroughly that he can say with all honesty, “I like people so much that I don’t want to do anything wrong in anyone’s eyes.”
By shifting one’s point of view to others’, Williams develops the empathy that leaders to liking other people so deeply.
Williams can conceive of the other person and shift his or her point of view to the other person’s and experience their inner world with its various images, concerns, and feelings. This sense of empathy lets him experience what others want and don’t want, what they are experiencing. This makes it possible to predict the effects one’s own actions will have on the other person and predict their behavior. This is an important leadership skill, for each person a leader deals with is unique.
Focus of Attention
Williams focuses his attention according to what he values. And because of his strong, secure sense of self, he doesn’t focus much on his own personal needs, but having those needs largely met, he focuses on and derives fulfillment from working with and helping others. It took his son Scott to get him to pay attention to his selfish needs. Scott said to him when he was mulling over whether to stay at KU or leave, “Dad, forget everything else. Do what you want to do.””That’s the problem, Scott,” Roy said. “I don’t know what I want to do.” In the end he got there-he did arrive at what he called, “the right decision,” as a result of an arduous process of evaluating the two scenarios, back and forth, “5000 times.” And this is a good illustration of how Williams’ conscience worked.
In a leader, the conscience functions by is attempting to minimize harm to others, and also to do beneficial things for others. Such a conscience uses a complex process of evaluating effects through “running” multiple scenarios and blending and integrating them, if possible, to find an optimum solution whereby all affected benefit and no one is harmed. Gandhi once said to union members he was negotiation for, “That action alone is just which does not harm either party to a dispute.” This the Golden Rule-like morality of a leader’s conscience.
There are times when, no matter how thorough the mental planning process, there is no way to actually succeed in benefiting everyone and harming no one. In the case of Williams and his big decision to leave KU for UNC, he tried hard. But he wavered, back and forth for several days that were so difficult that he said, “Other than the death or serious injury to my family members, I’ve never had more difficulty than this afternoon when I told those 13 young men I was leaving.”
Was he weak in his wavering? Somehow indecisive? I don’t think so. Rather, I think he was strong in his desire to solve the problem of balancing all of those impossibly-opposed sets of relationships. As he put it, “I love two schools. I wanted to coach both, but couldn’t.” Certain cynics have suggested that Williams doesn’t really mean what he is saying, that his emotions are an act. They are wrong. The evidence suggests that Williams is being completely honest, not only based on the congruent way he comes across when he described his emotions, but also based on 15 years of consistent, caring, supportive behavior towards others.
Other aspects of Williams’ conscience include his responses to criticism, described above. He constantly attempted to balance the needs of everyone, harming no one. Had he not created a conscience of this kind, he could have reacted defensively. He could have talked about how unfair such criticism was after working so hard to support his players. He could have been sarcastic, saying, “Well, they are sure appreciative, aren’t they?” He could have become stoic. But he didn’t respond in any insensitive ways. Instead, he maintained his commitment to his players in response to public criticism from them. This consistent, remarkable restraint on Williams’ part is an indication of an underlying thinking process dedicated to cooperation and not doing harm, a conscience that insists that he try to do the right thing.
Within Williams’ cooperative worldview, his decision whether to stay in Kansas or move to North Carolina was a difficult one to make, for his way of thinking through the decision was a process that did not simply attempt to maximize any particular factor. His conscience demanded that he pursue, not just fame, money or national popularity. Not just his hopes for future national titles. Not exclusively his son’s interests, nor his daughter’s, nor the interests of his wife, sister and father. Not just his reputation. Not just his chance at a beyond-his-dream job. He didn’t focus just on Dean Smith’s request, nor his own complaints about recent differences with his athletic director. He did not maximize his loyalty to his KU players, nor to his (potential) loyalty to North Carolina players. No, he didn’t maximize any one of these deeply important factors in his decision. Rather, the process of making his biggest decision in his life was an effort to balance or optimize multiple complex factors in a webs of relationships.
Using Roy Williams’ as a Leadership Role Model
Based on his enormously positive reputation, earned through the way he conducts relationships with others for the past 15 years, Roy Williams, clearly, is not an authoritarian ruler-type of person. Rather is a warm-hearted and effective leader.
Sure, Williams is competitive. He desires to win. But Williams’ intense competitiveness on the basketball court is largely “contained” by something larger that makes him more than a coach-his family-based, cooperative worldview. His cooperative values, emerging from such a worldview, override his domination-based, competitive, win-at-all-costs values most of the time, except while coaching within the boundaries of the game itself. Even then, though, his teams are models of cooperation, prompting basketball legend John Wooden to say, “One of Williams’ strengths is that he gets such good team play from his guys. I see more team play than I see individual play.” With such strong family-based, team-based cooperative values, he was able to say, after his team lost the 2003 national championship game: “If you ever have a chance to work with somebody and care about somebody as much as I have these kids, you’re going to be a really lucky person. And even though I’m in the wrong locker room, I really feel like I’m a lucky person.” Echoing Williams’ thinking, Nick Collison, one of his star players in that game said, “They have a ring, but my experience here has been unbelievable. You know you’re playing for the best man in college basketball. I swear, we could have made the NIT and I still would have felt the same way.” Coach Wooden defined success as, “peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you’ve done the best each day to become the best you are capable of becoming.” By that measure Williams and his players are successful indeed.
As a fan of Jayhawk basketball, my attitude towards Roy Williams this: I appreciate his enormous contributions to the program in Kansas where the game was born 100 years ago. And I hope he does well at North Carolina.
As a specialist in leadership development I consider Roy Williams as a leader to use as a standard to emulate for his commitment to long-term relationships, honest expression, and deeply felt, powerful values.
I expect Roy Williams will learn to improve as he matures as a leader. While his past 15 years as a head coach and public figure have been outstanding-I suspect that his best leadership and coaching are yet to come. It is important to remember that at age 52, as a leader, Coach Williams is still quite young. He will continue to develop both as a coach and as a leader. His development will also help executives, managers, educators, activists, coaches and politicians to learn much more from his public demonstrations of effective leadership.
In the end, what stands out about Roy Williams is that other people are deeply, intensely important to him-their feelings, their well-being, their opinions of him, his long-term relationship with them. This quality of leadership that Williams’ embodies emerges from his thinking. Basketball history proves that both warm-hearted leaders and tyrannical rulers can accomplish great records of winning as coaches. However, it is the warm-hearted leaders like Dean Smith, John Wooden, Roy Williams, and others, who can teach us how to accomplish great causes while retaining our humanity as warm and caring people.