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Lessons From Leaders: Phil Jackson

You don’t need to be a fan of the NBA, the Chicago Bulls, or sports to benefit from this book. In “Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior,” author Phil Jackson uses his experiences leading the Bulls to six national championships as a way to share his philosophy of life. He writes, “In basketball—as in life—true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”

Jackson writes about his personal journey to maturity through introspective Zen thinking. He began meditating while in his 20’s and carried it through his career as an NBA player and then a coach. He admits to his own vulnerabilities and imperfections while showing how continually reminding himself of his philosophical grounding motivated him to improve. But once he became a coach, he needed to extend his philosophy to others. And, in the case of professional athletes, the challenge of convincing others of his way of thinking proved more challenging. Jackson set an example for others throughout this career.

Many fans dismiss some of Jackson’s accomplishments on the court, given that he had a superstar like Michael Jordon to coach and dominate on the court. Yet, the challenges of managing the ego of Jordan and other players like Scotty Pippen and Dennis Rodman serves as an excellent example of how his approach to the game and life kept the team from self-destructing.

Here are five of the lessons Jackson shares that can be applied to our individual lives, in business as well as on the basketball court:

1) “I’ve learned that the most effective way to forge a winning team is to call on the players’ need to connect with something larger than themselves. Even for those who don’t consider themselves “spiritual” in a conventional sense, creating a successful team—whether it’s an NBA champion or a record-setting sales force—is essentially a spiritual act. It requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

2) “The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game—and life—will take care of itself.

3) “Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the “me” for the “we.”

4) “What pollutes the mind in the Buddhist view is our desire to get life to conform to our peculiar notion of how things should be, as opposed to how they really are. In the course of everyday life, we spend the majority of our time immersed in self-centered thoughts. The thoughts themselves are not the problem; it’s our desperate clinging to them and our resistance to what’s actually happening that causes us so much anguish.

5) “Our whole social structure is built around rewarding winners, at the perilous expense of forsaking community and compassion. The conditioning starts early, especially among boys, and never stops. “There is no room for second place,” the late coach Vince Lombardi once said. “It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win and to win and to win.” How can anyone, from sports figures to entrepreneurs, possibly maintain their self-esteem when this attitude dominates our cultural mindset? Eventually, everybody loses, ages, changes. And small triumphs—a great play, a moment of true sportsmanship—count, even though you may not win the game.

I found this to be a fun book to read that left me with a lot to think about.


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