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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach Wooden described how the Pyramid of Success fit in with his ideas on leadership:

“The 15 personal qualities of the Pyramid became a virtual leadership guidebook, a clear and concise method of illustrating what is required for achieving success as I have defined it. In precise words, it illustrated what I expected of those under my leadership and what they can expect from me: ‘As a teacher, the Pyramid is my textbook. Success is my subject matter.’ ”

The Pyramid of Success provides an excellent checklist for our leadership skills. The foundation of our leadership skills are the blocks on the foundation of the Pyramid.

Related: The Art of Leadership

For a leader, the cornerstones—industriousness and enthusiasm—are essential. Coach put it this way: “Hard work without enthusiasm leads to tedium. Enthusiasm without industriousness leads to unrealized potential. When combined, they cement a solid foundation.”

A leader must truly enjoy what he’s doing and maintain an enthusiastic, positive, optimistic attitude. As Coach liked to say, “More often than we e’er suspect, the lives of others we affect.”

Nor all the books
On all the shelves.
It’s what the teachers
Are themselves.

When a leader communicates even a simple sentence with a negative tone of voice, it can diminish the enthusiasm of a team member and reduce his or her industriousness to tedium.

The next two blocks—friendship and loyalty—work together, as well, in the makeup of a leader. The leader demonstrates friendship by taking a sincere interest in the personal problems of his or her team members. Friendship creates the respect and camaraderie that are essential in building a loyal team.

It is the leader’s loyalty to his own core values that allows him to set the proper example for his followers and make decisions based on faith, not fear.

Related: Follow These 4 Leadership Principles for Making Difficult Decisions

The final block in the leadership foundation is cooperation: “With all levels of your co-workers. Listen if you want to be heard. Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.” Cooperation differentiates a leader from just a person with authority.

In an interview with Steve Churm for a 2005 edition of the OC Metro, Coach was asked a couple questions on leadership:

What makes a good leader?

“They must be a good listener because the only thing they’ll ever learn is what they learn from others. We should all be learning all the time. I like the statement, “When you are through learning, you are through.” I think a leader must listen to others and be understanding of others and recognize the fact that everyone under their supervision is different. No two are identical, and a leader must recognize the fact that those under his or her supervision are different. You can’t treat them all alike. You’ve got to give them the treatment they earn and deserve. It’s important to also understand that all leaders are imperfect. They’re going to make mistakes. A good leader must come to terms with his imperfection. Lastly, a good leader must have followers who were eager, not just willing. If you have people who are eager, they bring an enthusiasm to their work and they will be successful. Simply being willing to do something is not good enough. You must have followers who are eager to accomplish great goals.”

How much of good leadership is teaching?

“I think a tremendous amount, but mostly by example. I think that the example you set is the best way to teach.”

The speed of the leader is the speed of the team!

Related:7 Personality Traits of a Great Leader

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.