Learning How to Lead from Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings

phil jackson eleven rings

I am not sure if I am a little biased when I write down these notes, so I may as well let you know what makes me want to read and write about this book, Phil Jacket’s Eleven Rings. I have always been a basketball or NBA fan since my junior high school days. My favorite teams were the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls and the Kobe Bryant Lakers. I thought I was a MJ and a Kobe fan, but as time flew by, I realized that I might have been more of a Phil Jackson or a fan of the Triangle Offence, the basketball playbook partially developed and mastered by Jackson’s co-worker Tex Winter. Like many others, I think of a business as a basketball team. From this book, Jackson told his stories of how he won the eleven rings as the head coach of the Bulls and the Lakers. The book is like an explaination of a reverse engineering process of success. Here are the most important lessons from the book that sticks to my mind.

You Need to Have a Good System, Even Michael Jordan Needs One to Win

Underestimating or even complete ignoring the importance of a system happens a lot to me in the past especially since I do a lot of projects as a one-man band. There is no question that you can win some battles with talent alone assuming that you are a great talent. Michael Jordan did win some games before Phil Jackson brought the Triangle Offence to the team. But without a system, it is really hard to do something consistently, especially when that thing you are trying to do is to win all the way. Phil Jackson, who brought the Triangle Offence and the Triangle Offence teacher Tex Winter to the Bulls and the Lakers was able to convince MJ and Kobe to use the system and the successful result has been produced and repeated as Jackson’s eleven championship rings show.

Teach Players The System, But Let Them Find Ways to Fit

Having a system doesn’t mean that the players have to run the system like robots. A good system should be strict enough for players to follow and repeat success but should also be flexible enough for letting the players to find ways to utilize their strengths, in a way that will create the best odd of winning as a team.

Check Your Ego at The Door

They players should play as a team using a good system to make it work like a well-oiled machine, producing desirable results repeatedly. For the team to work together though, you can’t bring your ego to the game. It is almost unavoidable for extremely talented people to have huge ego. I would go as far as saying that ego is probably the thing that has let them taste success in the first place. But to succeed at the highest level, you have to unlearn how to utilize your ego as your only fuel to move forward. What you need instead is to trust the system, trust your effort and leave your ego behind. Imagine how many more rings Shaq and Kobe could have won together if they have learned how to handle their ego earlier in their careers.

To Become a Great Leader, You Have to Distribute Leadership

In order to lead a team to success, you can’t be the one who is preaching, instructing and keeping people accountable all the time. That’s why each NBA team has one or two players playing the roles of captains. Even a great coach like Jackson needs the captains to lead the team in a more effective way. He mentioned in the book that if you want to gain more power, you need to learn how to distribute power across your team.

Let The Players Figure Out What To Do When They are Struggling

One of the best ways, if not the best way, to learn is to learn through struggling. When your team is in trouble, don’t jump into the scene immediately and save the day by yourself. These struggling moments are gems if you want to let your players grow.

Learn Mindfulness and Focus on The Present

Phil Jacket has a famous nickname, the Zen Master, due to his practice of the Zen philosophy and how he shares that philosophy with his teams. If you focus on what happen before the game and after the game when you are actually playing the game, you just wouldn’t be able to bring your best game to the table. Meditation is a great way to make oneself be more aware of the present moment.

Upgrade Your Winning Attitude from: I’m Great to We’re Great to Life is Great

In the book, Jackson has quoted the five stages of a team that are explained in the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. I am just going to simplify them and talk about the the three highest stages.

Stage 3: The individuals in the team thinks that “I am great”. So, each of them focuses on getting great personal achievements and that can sometimes win you some games.

Stage 4: The individuals work as a team and think that “we are great”. At this stage, winning as a team has become more important than getting personal achievements.

Stage 5: At this highest stage, winning has become not the most important thing in the players’ mind, but instead the players focus more on doing the right thing at the right time and winning simply comes as a by-product of running the system flawlessly.

Phil Jackson is definitely one of the best NBA coaches in the history and that can be a good indicator of how mindfulness can play an important role in our success. While some of the leadership tips from this book may not be as relevant to your current life, learning the fact that you need to have a good system and need to use it to repeatedly achieve victories is very empowering. To put the most important lesson to me into one sentence, it is that even Michael Jordan needed a system to win.