Two Questions That Loyalty Must Answer

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“Loyalty is important when things get a little tough as they often do when the challenge is great. Loyalty is a powerful force in producing one’s best and more so in producing a team’s best“ Coach John Wooden

The Pyramid of a Successful Life

The late great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, is known for his unmatched level of excellence on the basketball court through the teams he coached. Years after his death, the records he set still remain, elevating him to the status of a legendary coach.

But it was the relationships he forged with his players in private that really brought out the excellence on the court. In the words of retired NBA MVP and two time champion Bill Walton who played for Wooden at UCLA, Coach “rarely talked about basketball but generally about life.” He added that he “never tired of telling us that once you become a good person, then you have a chance of becoming a good basketball player.”

Beyond the jaw dropping records, Wooden’s success was drawn from the prioritization of relationships. The immediate evidence is in the impact he made on his players. Many of them are lifelong beneficiaries of the emphasis he put in knowing them as people not just as players. He built great teams by first building great personal relationships.

One of the gifts that Coach Wooden endowed us with is the Pyramid of Success. I have it taped to my office table for continued reference. After thoughtful consideration and review, I will print a second copy, frame it and hang it on the wall. The link above has access to a version that you can download and print. It will be worth it! With the accuracy of a master builder, Wooden fits in 12 building blocks that lead to a successful life. The center block at the base of the pyramid is loyalty. Coach Wooden said that this positioning was strategic. In his book, Wooden on Leadership, Coach viewed loyalty as “part of our higher nature.” It is also no coincidence that on the left and right of the loyalty block are friendship and cooperation. For, the latter two cannot exist without the former.

The two questions below will help us maintain relationship-based lifestyles that are centered on loyalty that will not waffle in the winds of changing times and seasons.

How do you represent and defend those who are absent?

Two close friends, Samson and Duncan, have set an example for me in this area. When I am with them they never allow conversations to veer into talking about people who are not there. In doing so, they reveal to me they will not talk about me when I am not around. This loyalty activates deeper trust which as we will see in the last post of this month, is the bedrock to any thriving relationship. They only mention the absent from a position of appreciation and respect. I call them ambassadors of the absent (AOTAs). I am learning from them that I cannot treat people any better than I talk about them. This will always be the lid in my relationships. If you want to stop talking negatively about people who are absent, I would suggest that the next time you do, go to the person in question, confess and apologize. The act of apologizing will become the mental stop sign, the next time you are tempted to do so.

Samson and Duncan have also taught me to defend those who are absent. They often want to hear the other person’s side of the story to ensure they are not being biased before they talk about the person who is not present. It takes courage and internal fortitude to stand up for the absent who cannot defend themselves. My friends exemplify this principle Stephen Covey taught on loyalty, “Be loyal to the absent and you will earn the trust of those who are present.”  

Who are you to those who are present?

People want to know they are getting the real me or the real you, not the me or you we pretend to be. Dan Reiland says, “You will never connect if you self-protect (attempt to hide the real you).” Loyalty finds its feet where truth is the foundation. We fear how our friends will respond about us when they find out who we really are. We digress to wearing masks to hide the real us and project an image we are convinced people will welcome with open arms. Putting on a mask to impress others can become intoxicating. But with all addictions, the high never lasts. As the appetite increases so must the level of pretense to maintain the lie. I am continuously challenged by this easier said than done quote from Andre Gide, “It’s better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”

Relationships built on the shifting sands of pretense rather than on the firm ground of loyalty will always sink. Masks can make us relational slaves to a model of friendship that is false.  We end up losing our uniqueness to satisfy others. Consider that maybe the real you is what people yearn for and the mask you are wearing is starving them and harming you. A loyal relationship comes down to character not reputation, John Wooden said.

Coach Wooden once turned down an invitation to a basketball tournament in 1947 because the African-American player on his team was prohibited to play, based on race. Imagine what that level of loyalty did to Clarence Walker, the African-American player and the entire team! They knew Coach cared for them enough to remain loyal to them even in critical times. When the same invitation was extended the following year, Clarence was invited as well. Coach’s fierce loyalty dissolved the racial lines in an organization and broke new ground of trust in the hearts of his players. Who would not want to be on a team with such a coach?

What you do should reflect who you are.  Your doing should always flow from your being. By focusing on who you are becoming, you develop the necessary character, confidence, and courage to be true to who you are. This in turn builds loyalty in your relationships whether personal or professional. Dare to be real even at the expense of being right.

Final Thought: In the cultivation of significant relationships, loyalty is a crucial ingredient as any to sustaining them. As part of the four sauces that keep relationships moist and enriching, loyalty, according to John Wooden is a “most precious and powerful commodity.” Use it well. Your relationships depend on it.

Keep on Keeping on!


  1. Great blog on loyalty Brother David! Many lessons learned from the coach and the great friends that were mentioned. When we are loyal to one another, great things can happen for the benefit of everyone! Will continue reading to get more understanding from this well written blog! Thanks for sharing wisdom Brother David, God bless!


  2. The flow of reading on this blog was promising and couldn’t like it to end. Loyalty is a word that most people ignore. I am blessed to read and digest the rich words in this. I am also encouraged that my loyalty has been recognized. Not many will tell you the good side but rather they will look forward to see your weakness. I will read and read this blog again and again .Thanks David for sharing this with me.


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