The Qualities of a Humble Leader

UPDATED: October 18, 2023
PUBLISHED: December 27, 2017

Coach Wooden’s favorite ideas regarding leadership came from Wilford Peterson’s essay on “The Art of Leadership” from his book The Art of Living. The essay states in part: The leader is a servant.

Related: Why Successful Leaders Need to Learn Humility

Coach Wooden’s actions always reflected humility.

In Pat Williams’ How to Be Like Coach Wooden, there is an entire chapter titled “If You Want to Be Like Coach, Strive for Humility.” In that chapter, Coach Wooden’s grandson Greg described Coach:

My grandfather is an extremely humble man. He’s led by example his whole life and stayed true to his beliefs. He’s never asked anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.

Coach Wooden’s teams always left their locker room, home or away, cleaner than the way they found it. In How to Be Like Coach Wooden, Franklin Adler, a student manager for the UCLA basketball team from 1964 to 1968, recalls an incident when he was cleaning up after a game that reflects Coach’s humility:

I was scurrying around between banks of lockers when I heard the sound of footsteps and the thud of objects landing in a receptacle. Thankful for any help, I assumed that a Washington State janitorial employee was making his rounds after the game. Imagine my surprise when I came around a corner and saw that my ally in cleaning up the room was Coach Wooden!

Coach Wooden never wanted special privileges.

Related: What It Means to Be a Person of Integrity

In Marv Dunphy‘s Ph.D. dissertation, John Robert Wooden: The Coaching Process, Frank Arnold, a former assistant coach of Coach Wooden, recalled the time he and Coach Wooden got in line to register for the National Association of Basketball Coaches at the Final Four. It was on an occasion when Coach Wooden’s Bruins were there to play for their eighth National Championship. Coach Arnold said:

The line was enormous and here’s John Wooden at the back of the line when we were a participant in the tournament. People kept telling him, “Coach, go to the front of the line, pay your dues and get out of here.” He wouldn’t do that. We stood in that doggone line for an hour and a half to pay our $20 dues. We could have gone to the front, but he wouldn’t. He wanted to be an ordinary guy, but he certainly was not an ordinary guy.

The humble leader will aspire for noble goals because he or she realizes, “The happiest moments in life come from making someone else happy.”

The humble leader will be a lifelong learner with a keen desire to improve and be full of alertness because he or she realizes “When you are through learning, you are through.”

The humble leader will inspire cooperation because he or she believes that “You must listen if you want to be heard” and that “What is right is more important than who is right.”

The humble leader will inspire team spirit because he or she knows “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one is concerned with who gets the credit.”

As you may have guessed the previous five quotes, are courtesy of my favorite humble leader: Coach Wooden.

Related: 27 Motivational Quotes by John Wooden to Inspire You to Be Better

This article originally appeared on and has been republished with permission.

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.