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Kelly on Roy Williams, Part 3


A Kansan's perspective on Roy Williams (Part 3)
Special to CarolinaBlue.com, December 11, 2003
by Kelly Gerling

 

 

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."  

Symbolic Reasoning

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.

Conscience 

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.