Note: this is the fourth of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.
John Wooden’s fourth block in the base of his Pyramid of Success is LOYALTY.
Wooden says, “Let those you lead know you have sincere care, concern, and consideration for their welfare and you will generate great Loyalty from those on the team.”
Loyalty, as Wooden is using it, means not betraying trust. It’s interesting that he does not include TRUST as one of his building blocks of success–I interpret that to mean that he logically interprets trust to be a consequence of something, not something you can build on your own. If you are loyal, your colleagues will trust you. If they are loyal to you, mutual trust grows inevitably.
Our challenge as leaders, whether basketball or choir, is to build a base layer of loyalty that encourages students to build on it. In that case, it falls on us – be loyal to our students. So many of the great choir directors I’ve known were the ones who never missed a recital, always wrote a letter, even bailed kids out of jail if needed. They give free lessons, meet before school or at a coffee shop to discuss their students’ problems. They are overwhelmingly loyal to their kids.
Wooden suggests that we should show the same loyalty to ourselves: “First, be true to yourself and your beliefs. Second, be true to your team.” In the rare situation where you have to be disloyal to yourself to preserve loyalty to a student, you must sacrifice that students’ loyalty. But this is rarer than rare.
What do we get for loyalty? We engender loyalty from our students, and empower them to show loyalty and respect to each other.
So much of really great music-making depends on trust; the altos must know that the basses will be there for them, etc. Overt loyalty – be it grabbing a folder, giving a ride, or just sitting with someone – translates into innate trust. This makes the music easier to attain.
Loyalty isn’t a skill you can easily teach. It must be given and encouraged through actions, not words. That doesn’t make it less desirable or less attainable, just less lecture-able.
A cautionary note: there is another, darker way to create loyalty in a team: fear. In particular, fear of secrets. Age-old hazing rituals use embarrassing situations to create a loyalty of fear. Fraternities, athletic teams, and other institutions have long put new members into compromised situations to create loyalty because their fear of being found out forces them to be loyal to the team.
It does, indeed, create loyalty. But at the terrible price of fear, intimidation, embarrassment, and sometimes outright cruelty.
I am certain that Wooden would never approve of such dark strategies to create a cohesive team. Not because the results aren’t tangible, but because the costs are high and unnecessary. His exhortation to “first be true to yourself and your beliefs” is a clear critique of attempts to build loyalty that come at a cost of any member’s moral compass.