Have you ever been emotionally affected by the death of a celebrity in a manner that surprised you? I am talking about someone you had never met. You had seen him or her on a TV or movie screen, at a ball game, or at a concert. And when they died, you found yourself feeling truly sad.

That happened for me this week when Bill Walton died at 71 years of age. For those of you who are not basketball fans, Bill Walton is considered one of the two or three best college basketball players of all time. He won three NCAA basketball championships at UCLA and two NBA championships with the Portland Trailblazers and the Boston Celtics.

After his playing career concluded, Walton became a renowned and respected TV broadcaster, overcoming a serious stuttering issue that he had struggled with since childhood. He was never a big-company CEO. He was never a sports team owner. He was never a famous entrepreneur.

Yet Bill Walton was a leader.

He knew how to speak to, motivate and lead other people, whether he was speaking to college students, school children, charity volunteers, basketball teammates, or broadcasting colleagues. He led with his words and actions. He became a role model on a continuing basis.

Walton got it. He realized that people matter more than anything else. He cared about others more than he cared about his own fame or celebrity status. He made time for others.

If you read the obituaries and tributes to Walton that were published this past week, you will notice that very little space is devoted to his amazing basketball exploits. The great majority of the paragraphs explain the kind of person – and leader- he was and how he was able to make such a positive impact upon the people whose lives he touched.

Here are a few examples. I encourage you to pause and reflect on these words:

“Bill led by taking pleasure in others’ success.” – Jeff Hagden, Inc Editor

“Bill said that ‘Success at the highest level comes down to one question: Can you decide that your happiness comes from someone else’s success? “Bill’s example was spreading the power of human connection through sharing authentic joy.” – – Scott Eblin, Leadership Coach, Consultant and Author

“”What I remember most about him was his zest for life and his always looking to share his wisdom and warmth with others.” – Adam Silver, NBA Commissioner

“He always remained true to his authentic self. He cherished life and lifting others up. Bill said, “Love is the simple, most powerful and important word and notion in culture and language. Unless the power of love supersedes the love of power. We have no chance of ever being successful. – Jim Trotter, The Athletic

“He always asked about how you were doing personally. It was never about him.” – Burke Magnus, ESPN President of Content

“Bill was always kind and generous. He always made time for everyone. He looked everyone in the eye when he was speaking with them. – Jim Gray, sportswriter and broadcaster

“”The most important aspect that I treasured about Bill was his curiosity and kindness.” – Michael Molinari, PAC-12 Network producer

“He was not happy unless he did everything he could to make everyone around him happy.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, college and NBA basketball legend

Bill Walton learned to care for others, even those with whom he got off on the wrong foot. When Walton was a freshman at UCLA, he had a tough relationship with his head coach, John Wooden, considered one of the greatest college coaches of all time. By the time he was a senior, Walton had learned a great deal about life, values and relationships with Walton.

The two of them became dear friends. Over the decades after college, Walton and Wooden would talk on the phone twice a week. At the end of every conversation, Walton would say “I love you coach.” Wooden would respond “I love you too.”

We all have a lot to emulate from the life of Bill Walton. You need not be a basketball fan to learn from his wonderful life. Please reflect on the quotes above and strive to make those feelings a part of your own leadership.

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