My dad references this famous quote quite often. In fact, so much so that growing up I originally thought my dad coined the phrase.

So who’s the original author? None other than wildly successful and renown National Champion basketball coach John Wooden.

The Wizard of Westwood

Wooden earned three straight All-America selections as a guard at Purdue University and was named team captain as a junior. He graduated with honors and a degree in English after winning the College Basketball Player of the Year Award and Purdue was voted national champions in 1932.

In 1934, Wooden returned to Indiana to teach English and coach basketball, baseball and tennis at South Bend Central High School. During this time, he formulated the principles of his seminal “Pyramid of Success,” teaching model, aiming to inspire his students and teams to derive the most from their potential.

After serving as a Navy lieutenant during World War II, Wooden became the athletic director, as well as the coach for the basketball and baseball teams at Indiana State Teachers College in 1946. His basketball teams won back-to-back Indiana Collegiate Conference titles and notched an impressive 44-15 record over two seasons.

Wooden took over as basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1948, hardly a sought after position given that the team lacked a proper playing arena and facilities. But the former college champion instilled some much-needed discipline into his players, forbidding them from cursing and criticizing each other. He’s also famous for first practices teaching his players the basics, like TYING THEIR SHOES and dimensions of a basketball court.

”There is this perception of John Wooden that he is this saint-like creature and so calm, so reserved. But there is also the side of Coach Wooden that he is this caged tiger,” – Bill Walton

Wooden eventually earned the nickname “Wizard of Westwood,” as he won 16 Conference Championship, led his teams to 12 Final Fours and won a record TEN NCAA national championships in a 12-year period as head coach at UCLA, including a record seven in a row. His career record stands at an unbelievable 664-162. For those interested, that’s a .804 winning percentage. Pretty dang dominant.

Having coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Bill Walton, John was often asked about his success. While providing no shortage of amazing quotes – this particular one stands out to me (as well as my Dad) as it applies to sports, life and business: “Never Mistake Activity For Achievement”.


Insight for Leaders

What great insight for us as leaders. Whether we are coaching a basketball team, a sales team or leading an entire company!

Now, as I’ve had the opportunity to lead my own sales teams — I have realized we may need a disclaimer to read *But we acknowledge without activity there will be no achievement. Because without activity — there will be no achievement.

I don’t want to gloss over the fact that hard work breads success. Daily activity is a crucial component to any successful rep I’ve worked with. However – easier said than done- a Forbes study found that Sales Reps spend only 35% on actual selling activities!!

Reps are already struggling to prioritize day to day activity. As leaders our focus shouldn’t be on merely managing and monitoring activity but WHAT that Activity leads to and WHY its important.

To me this means two things:

  1. Just because activity is there, it doesn’t guarantee winning, closing deals and success. You and your team may be going through the motions or completely missing opportunities to get better. Don’t get cocky if things aren’t that difficult right now.
  2. Focus activity on things that matter most. Instead of purely checking the boxes on metrics – get into the weeds and understand what value you can bring to each customer. How do they make money? Where are they struggling? How can you make their job/life easier? That’s impact.

Prioritize and Execute

I’ve referenced the Never Ending To Do List as a VP of Sales in a separate post. But I often think back to this John Wooden quote when things get a bit hectic and I start to wonder if I’m even making an impact or what activity I should focus my attention to.

When such times come up I mentally (sometimes verbally) think of another famous quote from Navy Seal turned Leadership guru and Author Jocko Willink that says: “Prioritize and Execute”.

If we simply prioritize those activities that will provide the best personal return on achievement – we have our game plan to win. That’s what I need to focus on.

So considering these two famous quotes from world class leaders, I wanted to brainstorm a few activities that could trip us up and which ones may be worth prioritizing for a high level of Achievement.

For reps this means:

  • Making that additional phone call and having an actual conversation when an email is quicker and easier.
  • Spend a few more minutes in genuine discovery to gain insights, problems and customer pains when its easier to get right into showing a demo.
  • Log that activity, set a follow up task and enter complete and legible notes in the CRM when “I can remember” sounds easier.
  • Custom tailoring a demo addressing pains uncovered during a demo instead of a canned version to quickly get to price…
  • Understanding the economic buyer, decision criteria and procurement process instead of just timeline and signing authority.
  • Establishing a relationship post sale to ensure success instead of passing to customer success and moving on

For Sales Leaders this means:

  • Using pipeline reviews to focus on action plans, use case and progressing deals instead of just grabbing a number to commit.
  • Using monthly 1-1s to understand mindset, rep challenges and opportunities to improve instead of just to recap numbers
  • Customizing a sales process that fits your selling cycle and system when a generic sales process from the archives will be fine.
  • Managing each manager or rep different based on skill sets and strengths rather than using the same approach for each member of the team
  • Focusing on coaching opportunities for improvement instead of lost deals and turnovers.

As a sales leader and a coach, our priority is to teach, train and coach our team to be the best they can be – especially when competition or trouble arises.

By following legendary leaders such as John Wooden and Jocko Willink – we can prioritize our activity so we can execute achievement, and focus on executing our game plan.


Bonus 1:

*Check out 100 awesome John Wooden quotes HERE . How many would apply to you and your sales team?

Bonus 2:

*Check out :The Legendary John Wooden | Tony Robbins Podcast – YouTube

Bonus 3:

What do John Wooden and Jocko Willink have in common? They both acknowledge that Leaders never confuse activity with achievement or productivity.

*updated from previous post

Bio: Grant Hanson is an accomplished sales leader with proven success in revenue generation, coaching, go to market strategy and tactics. He’s trusted as a mentor, motivator, leader, strategic thinker, and relationship builder. As a student of sales, Grant can often be found reading, listening to podcasts and sharing insights from experts to emulate. Outside of work, Grant can be found on the golf course, running, or in the mountains with his family.

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