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“The leader has faith in people. He believes in them, trusts them and thus draws out the best in them.”

These are ideas from the essay “The Art of Leadership,” which appears in The Art of Living by Wilfred A. Peterson, Coach John Wooden’s favorite text on leadership.

Related: The Art of Leadership

A leader displays faith in people by encouraging them to make decisions. From a basketball perspective, Coach Wooden learned from Piggy Lambert, his college coach, that players should be trained properly in the fundamentals and then given the leeway to make decisions on their own.

He wanted his players to act when action was needed, not look at the bench for permission or instructions. This demonstrated faith, trust and brought out the best in the team because the players played with confidence.

In his book with Don Yaeger, A Game Plan for Life, Coach recounted an episode with Piggy Lambert that taught him the core leadership value of having faith and trust in people:

One day, toward the end of my sophomore year, Coach Lambert called me into his office to let me know that a certain prominent doctor in town wanted to sponsor me, covering my expenses so I wouldn’t have to work.

The stringent rules about collegiate athletes receiving gifts didn’t really exist then, so the offer was perfectly legal.

Coach Lambert laid out the doctor’s proposal before me and asked what I thought about it.

“What does he want me to do to pay him back?” “Nothing,” Coach said. “He just likes you and wants to help you out.”

He knew what it would mean to me if I didn’t have to work: No more waiting tables at fraternity houses for $50 a month to cover the tuition, room and board, and other expenses.

After thinking it over for a few days, I returned to Coach’s office. “I’ve got along all right thus far,” I told him. “So I guess I’m going to turn it down.”

I’ll never forget how Coach Lambert responded to that: He smiled and said, “I knew you’d say that.” I think he understood how important my pride was, and how I had been raised to never be beholden to anyone else.

By laying out the terms of the agreement before me, he allowed me to see what was out there for me, but to also make the decision on my own.

It was exactly the kind of guidance and trust I needed.

I left that day feeling I had just experienced an incredible lesson in coach-player interaction. Coach Lambert had shown that he believed me mature enough to make the right decision, rather than the easy one.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The worst thing you can do for those you love is to do the things they could and should do for themselves.”

I believe making decisions is on that list.

Related: Why You Can’t Find Success Without Faith

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.