Leadership the Phil Jackson Way


I am a huge NZ Breakers fan.  I have had seasons tickets for about 5 years and this year was a big year with the Breakers winning the championship.  I am also a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan and have been since the 80’s when I watched Magic Johnson and Larry Bird battle it out in many NBA finals.  So when a friend of mine gave me a copy of Mind Games a biography on Phil Jackson the recently retired Lakers coach I was keen to read it to see what made him such a successful leader.

For those of you who don’t know about Phil Jackson he was an journeyman NBA player for the New York Knicks but really made his name as a coach.  Phi Jackson was the coach of the Chicago Bull when they won 6 championships.  Jackson then moved to coach the Los Angeles Lakers where he has led them to 5 championships.  Jackson’s 11 wins as a coach is an NBA record and his is one of only three coaches who have won championships with two separate teams.

In my view the currency of leadership is results and by any standard Jackson has produced outstanding results and therefore is a great leader.  As great as he is Jackson has some major flaws and what most people consider to be outrageous idiosyncrasies.  So what made Phil Jackson a great leader.  Here is what stood out to me:

  1. Jackson was authentically himself.  He was a student of life and basketball and he was always looking to learn, grow and improve.  He had some “fringe” beliefs around spirituality, Native American customs and coaching and he appears to have never been afraid to express or use no matter how other riduculed him for it.
  2. He did his 10,000 hour of deliberate practice.  In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell popularised the notion that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class at any skill.  Jackson was no overnight success having spent 5 years coaching in the CBA and several years as a assistant coach before he took over as the head coach of the Bulls and began winning championships.
  3. He played to his strengths and ignored things that were not his strengths.  In Jackson’s case his outstanding strength was his ability to relate to players and give them what the needed to be able to perform for the team.  This meant that he got the best out of his superstar like Micheal Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal and he made some difficult players like Dennis Rodman very productive for his team (In my terms Jackson was very good at guiding their passion.  Sometimes Jackson’s obsession with his team was to his detriment especially outside the team and in his personal life but it never impacted his ability to perform as a coach.

Very few of the people featured in the book came out of the book “smelling of roses” but I really enjoyed the book because it showed that anyone can be an effective leader if you are authentic, do your time to build your skills and play to your and other peoples strengths.



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