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“The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.”
―John Burroughs

This quote reflects the way Coach Wooden approached life and leadership.

He described the person he admired most, his father Joshua Wooden, as consistent in word and deed, a model of the strength and confidence that comes with character.

At the core of Coach Wooden’s leadership model was honesty. It could be said that when your intention equals your deed, a firm foundation of honesty is established.

In his book Practical Modern Basketball, Coach described the critical importance of “intention = deed” (honesty) as follows:

A coach must be sincere and honest in every phase of his or her work. He or she might lack something in knowledge and technique and still get along, but his or her fate is failure if he or she is lacking in honesty and sincerity. Reliability. Your team members must know that they can depend upon you and so must all of your co-workers.

Coach’s commitment to total honesty (his intention = deed) changed the preseason speech he gave his team. Steve Jamison, in one of many excellent books he did with Coach Wooden, Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success, described the change:

In the early days of his teaching, Coach Wooden started each season by trying to express his intention to be impartial with the following statement: “I will like you all the same.” And then he would add, “And, I will treat you all the same.” This turned out to be false.

There were some players on the squad that Coach Wooden did not like as well as others and it troubled him because he felt strongly that a leader should be “friends” with those under his supervision.

Furthermore, he recognized that he did not treat a hardworking player the same as one who was less so. Treating everyone the same, he soon realized, was unfair.

During this period, he read a statement by Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago’s legendary football coach, that helped him reformulate his perspective on the relationship between a leader and the team. Coach Stagg said, “I loved all my players the same; I just didn’t like them all the same.”

By the time Coach Wooden arrived at UCLA, his message to the players at the beginning of each season was as follows: “I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same. Furthermore, I will try very hard not to let my feelings interfere with my judgment of your performance. You will receive the treatment you earn and deserve.”

Coach Wooden’s preseason intent matched his deeds. A rock solid foundation was built.

Related: Tell the Truth: A Simple Approach to Building Great Relationships

Photo by Lolostock/

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.