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Loyalty, like respect, must be given before you get it.

This idea was a basic principle that shaped the coaching and leadership style of Coach John Wooden. He summed it up this way: The best leaders are usually humble leaders because they gain loyalty through respect rather than bravado.

Coach Wooden had three rules for his teams that contributed to an environment where respect and loyalty were given and received:

1. Be on time.

Coach believed being punctual demonstrated respect for the value of his players’ time. Conversely, he felt that being late was disrespecting the time of others.

Whether it was practice or a team meeting, Coach always arrived early and insisted that the players were punctual, too.

Coach Wooden delivered this behavior with flawless reliability, which, as Coach liked to say, creates respect.

2. Never criticize a teammate.

This rule helped foster the camaraderie between teammates needed for building loyalty.

If a serious discipline issue had to be addressed, Coach gave respect to the player by speaking to him privately. In his book A Game Plan for Life with Don Yeager, Coach described why:

“If there was an issue I felt needed attention with my players, I tried to do it by taking them aside and speaking to them privately. If there is a problem, it should be addressed early on, but it also should be addressed quietly. This not only allows the individual a chance to listen to the criticism and think about how to resolve the matter, but it often also creates a bond between the teacher and the student. There is an understanding that is forged and an appreciation for the private correction. No one likes to be called out in front of his or her friends. Humiliation is not the same thing as correction. One attacks the person; the other attacks the problem.”

3. Not one word of profanity.

This rule applied to the coaches and the players.

In Wooden on Leadership, former player Kenny Washington described Coach Wooden’s communication style that gave and got the respect of his teams:

“Coach would never degrade, abuse or humiliate individuals, even though he had the power to do it. He gave respect even when discipline was doled out. Certain things he insisted on, like no swearing, being on time, no showboating, all of that. But when it came to working with us, he treated everybody as an individual, approached each of us in a way that worked.”

With respect as a foundation, Coach summarized how loyalty is developed in Wooden on Leadership:

“Loyalty will not be gained unless it is first given. It comes when those you lead see and experience that your concern for their interests and welfare goes beyond simply calculating what they can do for you.”

Related: 3 Things You Need to Know About Being Loyal

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, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.