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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
3 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Others

Laughter and humor are critical parts of being happy. We all should make the effort to achieve them the right way. But never try for a laugh at another’s expense. Try to laugh with others and never at them.

Self-deprecating humor relays a message of humility and encourages trust. It is a valuable asset for any leader. Wilfred Peterson wrote in his essay, The Art of Leadership, published in his book, The Art of Living:

“The Leader has a sense of humor. The Leader is not a stuffed shirt. The Leader has a humble spirit and can laugh at his or herself.”

Whether it is a basketball team, the workplace, a gathering of friends or family, put-down humor has a negative effect on the group.

Motivational speaker Bob Burg expanded on the subject:

“Are you about to make a joke at someone else’s expense? Here’s my suggestion: First, think about it for a moment….NOW DON’T DO IT!

There is no upside (other than perhaps a fleeting moment of false superiority).

There is a huge downside, including—but not limited to—hurting another human being’s feelings; making yourself look bad; destroying trust with the target of the joke; losing trust (thus influence) with those who are witness to, or hear about, the insult; and being disliked without a principle-based reason for it.

If you MUST make a joke at someone’s expense, make sure it’s at your expense. And remember, if you say something to someone that you meant to be harmlessly funny and then find yourself having to say, ‘I was only kidding’ then it probably wasn’t funny in the first place.”

The final three points from Coach Wooden’s essay Six Ways to Bring Out the Best in People were:

  1. Seek individual opportunities to offer a genuine compliment.
  2. Remember that sincerity, optimism, and enthusiasm are more welcome than sarcasm, pessimism, and laziness.
  3. Laugh with others; never at them.

This is great advice and easy to follow.

Photo by @danielhalis/Twenty20

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.