Be Like Wooden: Trust Your Lenders

January 6, 2016 Jim Young


John Wooden is arguably the greatest coach in basketball history. There’s certainly no argument that he’s at least on the short list. At UCLA, Wooden presided over a college basketball dynasty that will never be equaled, leading the Bruins to an astounding 10 national titles in 12 years, including seven in a row from 1967-73.

But Wooden’s impact went beyond just the college basketball record books. He was an endless font of inspirational quotes and his views on leadership and teamwork – particularly his Pyramid of Success – resonated in the business world.

We could go on and on about Wooden’s accomplishments, but for bankers perhaps the most important thing about Wooden is what he didn’t do.

Wooden in his typical in-game spot, seated on the bench. (Associated Press)

Watch any televised basketball game today and you’ll notice that the cameras spend almost as much time trained on the coaches as they do on the on-court action. Every few seconds coaches are up off the bench, shouting instructions at players, badgering officials, or trying to get the attention of either.

Watch some old film of Wooden during a game and you’ll wonder if the video feed was frozen. The vast majority of the time he remained
seated on the bench. While he consulted with assistants during the game, instructed players during timeouts and occasionally worked the referees, Wooden spent much of the time simply observing while the action unfolded.

“Don’t look over at me,” he would sometimes tell his players. “I prepared you during the week. Now do your job.”

Wooden believed very strongly that the principal purpose of the coach was to get his team ready for the game. If the coach performed his job correctly, then the players would have everything they needed to do their “job” during the game. Wooden believed that this trust built confidence in the players and empowered them to make their own decisions within the flow of the game.

Contrast that view with coaches who attempt to control every aspect of the game as it unfolds. You know the type – they’re the ones who insist the point guard look over to the sideline before every offensive possession. They give each player a set role and demand that they stay within it. Players who fail to follow those guidelines quickly find themselves headed to the bench.

That approach often limits mistakes but it can also lead to players who no longer use their instincts on the floor. They look for approval from the bench before every key move they make – or they simply stop making decisions for fear of being wrong and getting pulled from the game.

How do your lenders perform when they’re attempting to make a deal with borrowers? Do they have to “check with management” before trying something beyond just adjusting the rate? Or do they simply say no to deals that don’t fit within their rigid pre-set instructions?

Is that how you want your lenders to do their jobs? Or would you rather them be able to read the situation and make adjustments to the deal, confident that the decisions they’re making will help both the bank and their customer?

Who wouldn’t want Door No. 2 in those scenarios? But to do that, you’ve got to channel the bank’s inner Wooden. You have to “prepare” your lenders by giving them the tools to make decisions within the flow of the game … err deal.

A big part of that preparation revolves around giving the lenders a clear set of directives. For our clients these are the ROE targets on the deals – if lenders are both within credit policy AND above the ROE target, then they’re good to go. Lender prep should also include extensive sales and negotiation training.UCLA Banners

Once your bank has done that, you need to take a seat on the sidelines and trust that your lenders will successfully use the tools you’ve given them, when it matters most.

It’s not an easy thing to do. There’s a reason why so many coaches would rather stalk the sidelines and shout instructions than sit on the bench and put the team’s fate on the shoulders of their players.

But there’s also a reason why the wall outside UCLA’s locker room is covered with national championship banners.

About the Author

Jim Young

Jim Young, Director of Content at PrecisionLender, is an award-winning writer with experience in a range of positions in media and marketing, from reporter to website editor to content marketer. Throughout his career Jim has focused on the story – how to find it, how to understand it, and how best to share it with others. At PrecisionLender, he manages the many ways in which the company shares its philosophy on banking and the power of relationships. Jim graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke University and holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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