11 Leadership Lessons From NBA Coach Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson is a legendary former NBA coach and with 11 titles under his belt, he definitely knows a thing or two about leadership. Jackson recently published his memoir, "Eleven Rings," where he outlines what really led to his success. Below are the 11 principles that made him so successful.
  1. Be genuine. Jackson wasn't concerned about fans, but realized it was all about being true to who you are. He says the players benefited more when he "spoke from the heart."
  2. Share the power. Jackson had to learn how to distribute power in a way that allowed him to keep his authority but gave everyone on his team a voice. This gave his teams "a state of harmony and oneness," which translated onto the basketball court.
  3. Everyone is unique. Each player brought more to the team than a great jump shot, and Jackson wanted them to discover what that was. Some were courageous, some did well under pressure, but Jackson wanted to ensure that each player was able to discover what these unique qualities were.
  4. Empower team members. Jackson is a fan of the triangle offense, a basketball principle similar to that used in business as a means to foster creativity and innovation. While maintaining a sense of structure, the triangle gave players a sense of empowerment and a vital role.
  5. Make it sacred. Jackson says that playing professional basketball is actually a very mundane activity, so he wanted to bring meaning to the game. He incorporated meditation and other rituals into practice as a means of making the sport sacred.
  6. Becoming one entity. A team of any kind needs to be able to act and think as one. Jackson would have his players sit silently while breathing in sync with each other. The former coach says the practice "helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than words."
  7. Show compassion. Showing compassion toward players, no matter how tough they may seem, helped strengthen their relationships. Just a few kind words can break down barriers and make everyone feel like part of the team.
  8. Focus on the team, not the goal. Every coach wants his/her team to win the game, but to win the game, the team needs coaching. Instead of "worrying about tactics," Jackson says he "preferred to focus my attention on whether the players were moving together in a spirited way." Let each individual use their natural abilities to push the limits.
  9. Prepare for chaos. Jackson would often trick his players to prepare them for the chaos of a game. He said it would "wake players up and raise their level of consciousness."
  10. Sometimes, just do nothing. Like many other professions, athletes are often high-energy people who always have to be on the go and solving some sort of problem. Jackson said sometimes this needs to be counteracted by doing absolutely nothing.
  11. It's how you play the game. As a leader, concentrating on how to win will just make you crazy, obsessive and counterproductive. All you can really do is "create the best possible conditions for success," and then realize that there's nothing you can do about the outcome.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Do you agree with Phil Jackson's leadership principles? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments!

More from PayScale

The Big Brain Theory: Leadership Lessons and a Real World Test

Lessons From Star Trek

Leadership in the Worldplace: The Importance of Integrity


(Photo credit: © zyphyrus - Fotolia.com)

1 Comment

  1. 1 Pablo Salvas 18 Jul

    There could be 11 more tips to the ones we just read before,but what I think about it… a successful team makes it to as far as whenever there is a good leader to take charge who knows how to deal with the many
    things that are involved within, players’ attitudes, fans, wins and losses, organizations, news media etc… at ends, the glorious triumphant ones are the ones who lived the excitement along with the heroes on the court, warriors who play the game without fear and limitations and supporters despite the results although, the idea is not to play but to compete but not forgetting that there is always a happy ending on one side while the other side takes the second best, players are leaders on their own, although they need a leader to set up strategies and conditions needed to make it to where the happy ending is at…


  1. Please prove to us that you're not a robot:

Find Out Exactly What You Should Be Paid

United States (change)

Comp Managers: Start Here »