Phil Jackson, considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association, has won 11 titles as a coach. The most in NBA history. Eleven Rings is a memoir that, for me, is more about leadership and relationships than basketball.
Jackson’s principles are worth taking a look at. They support the idea that a leader’s job is to build leaders at all levels. You could take back to your organization and put into practice today any one of the following 11 principles:
1. Lead From the Inside Out. Avoid fads. Lead from who you are. “As time went by, I discovered that the more I spoke from the heart, the more players could hear me and benefit from what I gleaned.”
2. Bench the Ego. “The more I tried to exert power directly, the less powerful I became. I learned to dial back my ego and distribute power as widely as possible without surrendering final authority. Paradoxically, this approach strengthened my effectiveness because it freed me to focus on my job as keeper of the team’s vision.
“Some coaches insist on having the last word, but I always tried to foster an environment in which everyone played a leadership role, from the most unschooled rookie to the veteran superstar. If your primary objective is to bring the team into a state of harmony and oneness, it doesn’t make sense for you to rigidly impose your authority.”
3. Let Each Player Discover His Own Destiny. Jackson’s goal wasn’t to provide all of the answers. “I’ve always been interested in getting players to think for themselves so that they can make difficult decisions in the heat of battle.”
“My approach was always to relate to each player as a whole person, not just a cog in the basketball machine. That meant pushing him to discover what distinct qualities he could bring to the game beyond taking shots and making passes. How much courage did he have? Or resilience? What about character under fire? Many players I’ve coached didn’t look special on paper, but in the process of creating a role for themselves they grew into formidable champions.”
4. The Road to Freedom is a Beautiful System. Similar to the principles used to foster greater creativity and innovation in an organization, Jackson used a system known as the triangle offense. “What attracted me to the triangle was the way it empowers the players, offering each one a vital role to play as well as a high level of creativity within a clear, well-defined structure.”
5. Turn the Mundane into the Sacred. Leaders take note. Jackson writes, “As I see it, my job as coach was to make something meaningful out of one of the most mundane activities on the planet: Playing pro basketball.” He incorporated meditation into his team’s practices. “I wanted to give players something besides X’s and O’s to focus on. What’s more, we often invented rituals of our own to infuse practices with a sense of the sacred.”
6. One Breath = One Mind. Players “often have to make split-second decisions under enormous pressure. I discovered that when I had the players sit in silence, breathing together in sync, it helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than words. One breath equals one mind.”
“If you place too many restrictions on players, they’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to buck the system. Like all of us, they need a certain degree of structure in their lives, but they also require enough latitude to express themselves creatively.”
7. The Key to Success is Compassion. “Now, ‘compassion’ is not a word often bandied about in locker rooms. But I’ve found that a few kind, thoughtful words can have a strong transformative effect on relationships, even with the toughest men in the room.” Compassion breaks down barriers among people.
8. Keep Your Eye on the Spirit, Not on the Scoreboard. When a player is “playing within his natural abilities, he activates a higher potential for the team that transcends his own limitations and helps his teammates transcend theirs. When this happens, the whole begins to add up to more than the sum of its parts.” He adds, “Most coaches get tied up in knots worrying about tactics, but I preferred to focus my attention on whether the players were moving together in a spirited way.”
9. Sometimes You Have to Pull Out the Big Stick. Sometimes Jackson used “tricks to wake players up and raise their level of consciousness….Not because I want to make their lives miserable but because I want to prepare them for the inevitable chaos that occurs the minute they step onto a basketball court.”
10. When in Doubt, Do Nothing. “Basketball is an action sport, and most people involved in it are high-energy individuals who love to do something—anything—to solve problems. However, there are occasions when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing….I subscribe to the philosophy of the late Satchel Paige, who said, ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.'”
11. Forget the Ring. We all hate losing. “And yet as coach, I know that being fixated on winning (or more likely, not losing) is counterproductive, especially when it causes you to lose control of your emotions. What’s more, obsessing about winning is a loser’s game: The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome.”
Jackson concludes with: “What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.”