I often found myself rooting against the teams he coached, but I always had a special respect for Phil Jackson. He is one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, but, more importantly to me, he is an individual in a world of conformity. In today’s sports world it is rare to find an athlete or coach who does not speak in clichés or who constantly thinks of themselves as a brand. Jackson lives in a secluded, albeit large and expensive, house in Montana and is a student of Eastern philosophy who would assign books to his players to read during the season. (Most players never read them, but whatever.) By the standards of professional sports, he is a scholar and renaissance man. Eleven Rings recounts each of Jackson’s championship seasons as either a player or a coach and outlines his philosophy on leadership and success. This was another book I wanted to “do something with.” Below are some of the highlights of the book.
Leadership requires “an open heart, a clear mind, and a deep curiosity about the ways of the human spirit.”
The Jackson Eleven
- Lead from the Inside Out—“the more I spoke from the heart, the more the players could hear me and benefit from what I’d gleaned.”
- Bench the Ego—make everyone a leader, but do not be a “pushover”
- Let each Player Discover his own Destiny—“inspire them to change themselves”; allow people to solve problems for themselves and find their role in the organization
- The Road to Freedom is a Beautiful System—the triangle offense “stimulates creativity and teamwork, freeing players from having to memorize dozens of plays”; gives each player “a vital role to play as well as a high level of creativity within a clear, well-defined structure”; “allows the team to move together in a coordinated manner”; everyone must be engaged in the system; stimulates “group problem solving”; “the beauty of the system was that it turned the whole team into a learning organization”; while this is specifically about a basketball offense, he is really writing about the beauty of structure in our lives and organizations.
- Turn the Mundane into the Sacred—as a leader, create meaning that unites people
- One Breath = One Mind—the power of mindfulness and “remembering to come back to the present moment”
- The Key to Success is Compassion—“a few kind, thoughtful words can have a strong transformative effect on relationships”; open your heart to work with others in a meaningful way
- Keep Your Eye on the Spirit, Not on the Scoreboard—work together as a team and work for the greater good
- Sometimes You have to Pull Out the Big Stick—test the mettle of your team
- When in Doubt, Do Nothing—“there are occasions when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing”; simply let the unconscious mind solve problems
- Forget the Ring—“Obsessing about winning is a losing game. The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”
Staying true to his Eastern philosophical leanings, Jackson quotes Pema Chodron, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Jackson also reminds us we need to “step beyond your routine way of seeing the world” and just as importantly “to make your work meaningful you need to align it with your true nature.” This is a common concept in Eastern thinking, and can be found in Bruce Lee’s philosophy “to be like water.”