Walton started every game and played almost every minute. Swen barely saw the floor. At the end of his career a reporter asked Bill Walton who the toughest center he had to face all year was, and Bill pointed at Swen and said “that guy is the best player I’ve played against”. While Bill Walton was drafted first by the NBA that year, Swen became the first player drafted in the NBA first round who never started a college game. He went on to play 8 years in the ABA and the NBA. He was the ABA Rookie of the Year and is the only player to lead both leagues in rebounding.
I learned this story from Don Yaeger, who is an award winning sports journalist. Don will tell you that the lesson from this story is:
“We are who we associate with. The five people you spend the most time with in your life are going to decide just how successful you are.”
I think this is true, and this is what happened for Swen. Bill Walton made him a better basketball player.
But I think there is another side to this story. Swen also made Bill Walton better. He was the person who’s purpose in Bill Walton’s life was to make him a better basketball player. I think we all need one or more people who challenge us, work us out, make us hone our skills.
So who’s your Swen? Who do you turn to every day to make you better? Who is it that has a real understanding of who you are, and more importantly has an inner drive to help you become more? Is it a sibling that knows you well and engages in friendly competition? Is it your spouse who channels their love for you along with their deep understanding of who you truly are to help you move to the next level? Or is it a peer at work with whom you have established great rapport, that you trust with your inner thoughts and value their vision, wisdom and advice as you work to be the “best you” you can be?
We all need at least one Swen. No matter what level we play our game at, there is always a next level. Who do we have that knows our potential and thinks of it as their responsibility to helps us reach the fullness of that potential?
In addition to having people who help us grow, I believe there is one specific Swen that I believe might be the most important of all … our “inner Swen“. Have we found that place inside of us that is non-judgemental, that doesn’t “should” on us, that we can go to and examine what we can do to reach the next level in our own development? Finding this “inner Swen” isn’t the easiest and it requires a great deal of self-awareness and self-respect to engage him/her in a positive manner, but when we do it can be very rewarding. My “inner Swen” writes this blog. He thinks of ideals in leadership and puts them in writing for others to see, and he challenges me to live up to them every day. Who could your “inner Swen” be?
When I think of this concept as a part of essential leadership, there are two things that come to mind.
- Coach Wooden understood that being a coach and being a “Swen” are two different things, and likely mutually exclusive things. When we are in a direct leadership or coaching role we have different things to offer … guidance, teaching, goal setting, etc. Our team members do not want this relationship to seem competitive. They want feedback, they want kudos, and they want to be given new challenges and shown how to improve. Their Swen is someone that they can exercise their craft with, challenge themselves against a skilled person in the same discipline and work on improving their skills.
- I think that as leaders we need our own Swen. How do I find someone who understands not only my strengths, but also those areas where development may still be required? Most importantly, is that leadership peer willing to engage with me and help me maximize my strengths and mitigate my weaknesses?