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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
This Is the Greatest Reward of Leadership

Coach Wooden did not like this picture.

“I didn’t win all these trophies,” he said. “I just played a small part.” Coach did not view recognition as any sort of reward for the leadership he was interested in.

In his book The Essential Wooden with Steve Jamison, Coach described what he enjoyed about being a leader:

“Mr. Webster fails to mention that during the process of being a teacher, coach, and a leader, something extraordinary can occur: You will actually create an honest-to-goodness team, its members joined in a way comparable only to being in a strong family with bonds that last a lifetime.”

“That is what I love so dearly about leadership. Over and over again, it allowed me the privilege of building and being part of that special family we call ‘a team,’ a group of individuals striving to achieve competitive greatness and success. I am a lucky man.”

Coach Wooden had a file that contained some key ideas on leadership he valued from two different authors:

“You cannot build character and courage by destroying people’s initiative and independence. And you cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”  

—William Boetcker (1873-1962)

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you. But a good leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

—Lao-Tzu (500 BC)

As Coach often quoted from his favorite essay on leadership: The Art of Leadership by Wilferd Peterson:

“The Leader is a people-builder. The more people the Leader can build, the stronger the organization will be, the Leader included.”

The people Coach Wooden helped build became his friends for life. What a reward.

Photo by @jeanmarcelony/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.