“Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” by Phil Jackson is one of the best books on leadership and sports, ever. In my opinion it’s so good, I’ll be listening to “Eleven Rings” again..

There’s so much to glean from Jackson’s thoughts regarding coaching, leading, performing, and team building. I found myself playing multiple tracks two and three times because of something he said.

The Jackson Eleven:

1 – Lead from the inside out

Have you ever seen or played for a coach who resembled the likes of the Billy Martin type? Nervous energy, yelling at the top of their lungs, intimidation tattooed all over their persona. It takes a humble and vulnerable leader to show they care and speak to the heart of their players.

2 – Bench the ego

We’ve all worked for a boss who had an ego as big as the room you’re in. The leaders that get the most from their players are the ones who are comfortable standing in the wings as they share the spotlight with each person on the team. This energizes each individual to go above and beyond the call of duty.

3 – Let each player discover his own destiny

This is the true essence of coaching. Empowering the player/client to create their own path to the endgame they want to achieve. Once the player has their AHA moment, the coach can pretty much stay out of the way and let the team do what they instinctively know how to do.

4 – The road to freedom is a beautiful system

The infamous -triangle offense- was Jackson’s claim to fame in winning the 11 rings. Critics thought the system was complex. In reality the system freed the players from having to remember dozens of plays. The triangle offense empowered the players to create in the moment.

5 – Turn the mundane into the sacred

No matter what you do for a living, at some point it all gets routine. You need to instill something into your environment to make the ho hum seem special.  At the beginning of training camp, Phil would say to the team “God has ordained me to coach young men, and I embrace the role I’ve been given. If you wish to accept the game I embrace and follow my coaching, as a sign of your commitment, step across the line.” In essence he gave each player a choice to be coached. Again, he’s playing the empowerment card.

6 – One Breath = One Mind

Jackson is a big believer in mindfulness and meditation. He’d have the team sit in silence for periods of time having them focused on the breath, completely in sync.  There’s nothing more calming then 10 to 20 minutes of quiet meditation. Perhaps that’s another 30 day challenge.

7 – The key to success is compassion

When I think of compassion, I think of Encourage the Heart, one of the five practices of exemplary leaders in the book, “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Pozner. The more you show people you care the more they’ll fight for the cause.

8 – Keep your eye on the spirit, not on the scoreboard

As a faculty leader at Coach University, I see many students getting tangled in the web of the ICF Core Competencies. Don’t get me wrong, these competencies are important to a meaningful coaching conversation. However, instead of worrying about one competency or another, I tell students to remember the value is in the process. Do this well and you’ll have lots of happy clients.

9 – Sometimes you have to pull out the big stick

This is about shaking things up. Here’s a case in point in Phil’s own words. “Once I had the Bulls practice in silence; on another occasion I made them scrimmage with the lights out. I like to shake things up and keep the players guessing. 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

There were times when Jackson’s teams would be get trounced by the opposition. The other team would go on a run and score 12 or 16 points vs. his Bulls or Lakers. When most coach’s would be up in arms, pacing the sidelines, yelling at the players or the refs, Jackson would stay seated in his chair, one leg crossed over the other, calmly taking it all in. Sometimes you’ve got to let the air out of a situation to see what it looks like.

11 – Forget the ring

Instead of the main focus being the endgame, simply be in the present. The moment Jackson’s players allowed themselves to be coached on the first day of training camp, they made a personal decision to do everything they could to practice, train, and play like a pro, each and every day. They stayed focused on being masters of their craft and trusted destiny would unfold in a natural way.

I encourage you to check out “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.”


Photo by Tree Leaf Cover.

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