On Success: Hang Around



A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.

~ Bruce Lee

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

~ John F. Kennedy

I recently read an article by Rich Karlgaard in Forbes about Tara VanDerveer.  Last month Ms. VanDerveer began her 29th season as Stanford University’s women’s basketball coach.  She has won two NCAA titles at Stanford.  Her lifetime winning percentage is 82%.  She coached the U.S. Women’s team to an Olympic gold medal in 1996.  She is, by any standard, one of the best CEOs you fill find and a wonderful example of greatness.

When Mr. Karlgaard visited with Ms. VanDerveer to learn the principles that propelled her to the top of her profession her answer was simple: She hung around.

It started when she was a student at Indiana University in the 70s.  She was in the stands at every home game and every Hoosier home practice during the amazing period leading up to and when the Hoosiers went 32-0 (1975 – 1976 team) and won the 1976 national championship as well as the 1974 – 1975 team that went 31-1.

Ms. VanDerveer studied every aspect of Coach Bobby Knight’s game.  She saw everything, including the good and bad.  She took copious notes.  She observed.  She learned.  She absorbed.  And when the time came after her studies to become a coach herself, she applied all that she had learned, refined the principles, and made them her own.

She hung around.

She hung around and watched Coach Knight.  She hung around a former college and Olympic team men’s coach named Pete Newell, thought to be the best centers’ coach in basketball.  She spent hours with Mr. Newell working, talking and taking notes.  Many hours later she had a filing cabinet full of notes.  In the 1990s when football legend Bill Walsh returned to coach at Stanford, Ms. VanDerveer always sat next to him during athletic department meetings.

She hung around.

What is the axiom we learn from Ms. VanDerveer?  Learn from the best, but don’t get so close you become a nuisance.  Ms. VanDerveer mastered this principle, worked hard with what she learned, and achieved success.  Check out Mr. Karlgaard’s full article here for the rest of the story.

I encourage you to follow Ms. VanDerveer’s example.  Who are the best in your field?  Do you read everything they write?  Do you pick their brains when you have the opportunity?  Do you attend their presentations and speeches?  Do you take notes to capture and reference what you have learned?  These are traits of those who become great.

Choose to hang around the best.  Choose to learn from the best.  Choose to write notes and retain what you have learned from the best.

Choose greatness.



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