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  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

Norman Vincent Peale Was Wrong?

Updated: May 10, 2018

What? Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, Rhonda Byrnes and Oprah wrong?!? The Power of Positive thinking a myth, not a secret! At least that is suggested by the headline of a recent blog post by Cheryl Snapp Connor regarding legendary coach Bobbie Knight’s book, The Power of Negative Thinking.

The headline caught my attention for several reasons. First it is depressing. I practice thinking positively and do not want to consider the dark side of self talk. I am certain that focusing on the possible and the potential are healthier than focusing on the problems and the pitfalls. Secondly, college basketball is one of my passions. That combined with another passion of mine, leadership, any article about Knight would be of great interest to me. Thirdly, I enjoy following Ms. Connor’s writing.

Knight, for the uninitiated is one of the most winning college coaches of all time with 902 wins. In this interesting interview, I learned that his negative thoughts were really about planning for the worst and gearing his game prep around how the opponent could beat his team. This article can be found at .

The article provoked two areas of contemplation. First while planning for the worst is a hallmark of preparedness it does not create followership. Fear of losing and fear of failure are short term motivators. Getting out alive is of course vital, but not inspirational. Business is a marathon, and in the long run, there are more important qualitative achievements that will not be met with negative thought leadership. When leaders are planning for the worst, their thought process needs to be balanced with a positive optimistic outlook coupled with sincere gratitude for the resources and opportunities that are also presented.

One of my favorite Zig Ziglar stories is about the homeowner who was complaining that they had to clean three bathrooms. Ziglar, ever the master of positive thinking, turned negative thought on its head by pointing out that the homeowner had three bathrooms to clean! What a different energizing perspective.

The second thought that the article provoked is that while what results are accomplished must be measured, how the results are accomplished also must be measured. An enlightened approach to evaluating leadership combines the “what” and the “how”.

Think about scoring the performance in one of 4 quadrants:

  • Quad I: Top Left: High in How, Low in Results: A nice leader who does not deliver

  • Quad II: Bottom Left: Low in How, Low in Results: A loser who did it in a negative manner

  • Quad III: Bottom Right: Low in How, high in Results but not in a positive, likable manner

  • Quad IV: Top Right: High in How and High in Results: This is the most desirable combination. The leader delivers with a positive manner.

Knight is known as “The General” for a good reason. He is a Quad III leader. He won, but how methodology was reportedly toxic. Want proof? Wins and Championships measure the “what”. However as a member of the college faculty, the coach should be measured on how well their students are prepared for future success. To gauge the “how” lets use the number of NBA All Stars coached.

Quad III Leaders:

  • Bobbie Knight/University of Indiana

  • What: 902 Wins 3 National Championships

  • How: 1 NBA All Star

  • Mike Krzyzewski/Duke

  • What: 983 wins 4 National Championships

  • How: 6 NBA All Stars (2 only played one year at Duke)

Quad IV Leaders

  • Dean Smith/University of North Carolina

  • What: 879 Wins, 2 National Championships

  • How: 13 NBA All Stars

  • John Wooten/UCLA:

  • What: 664 wins 10 National Championships

  • How: 9 NBA All Stars

In addition to the “how” measurement, look also to these coaches’ very distinctive behavioral styles and reputations. Wooden is known as THE COACH. An internet search will yield dozens of positive thinking quotes. Smith is known as THE TEACHER with his coaching books in the hands of almost every successful coach. Smith began every practice and every game with a positive inspirational quote. His messages were positive affirmations, focusing on character and respect. Both Wooden and Smith were loved by their players. The alumni of their programs are close knit and the gyms in Chapel Hill and Westwood were often populated by former players. Krzyzewski has been observed berating his players and is known for his profanity and stern demeanor. Knight is best known for throwing a chair, assaulting a police officer, punching a University employee, cursing an NCAA volunteer, and finally being fired for assaulting a player.

Is negative thinking the key for success? Was Dr. Peale wrong? That clearly depends on how success is measured. Respected leaders are followed, feared leaders are obeyed. I believe the power of positive thinking, combined with gratitude and preparedness is the way to win.

What leadership style do you want to be known for? What quad are you in?

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

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