Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book Review: Eleven Rings

Eleven Rings: The Soul of SuccessEleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Phil Jackson says he often quotes a Zen expression, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." It seems the same might be said for championships.  The fundamentals of basketball (and life) are the same before you win as they are after you win.  You always have to love your teammates. Group unity is always going to trump talent. Great performers are always going to do better when they support their partners, even at the expense of their personal gain. Leaders always have to walk the talk.

There is clearly something about the game of basketball that allows for a unique kind of leadership development. Maybe I have never seen them, but it does not seem like the world's greatest practitioners of baseball, football, or hockey have had much to say on the subject. (Except at Ohio State where both Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes have written about leadership!)  Basketball coaches, on the other hand, seem to have a special insight into what it takes to mold a group of talented young individuals into a team.  John Wooden, Dean Smith, and Mike Krzyzewski all wrote wonderful books about leadership, books full of wisdom and practical advice.  Even with eleven championships, Phil Jackson was going to have to produce something pretty special with his book to be able to truly add anything to the genre. 

Slam dunk. 

This is an excellent page-turner of a book, which mixes inside-the-lockerroom storytelling with Buddhist philosophy and Jackson's own personal journey.  We get to see the highs and lows of working with world-class, all-time superstars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neil (to name a few.)  A pro coach has to manage up (owners, general managers, league officials), manage sideways (consultants, front office staff, other teams) and manage down (players, trainers, assistant coaches.)  Throw in the media and real-life family and friends, and that is a lot of balls in the air.  Jackson doesn't make it sound easy - he shares his internal struggles.  The learning is in how he manages his interior life, subdues his ego, works through anger and disappointment and unexpected change, and comes out on top.  Eleven times.

I saw Phil Jackson in person once - from a distance - in a hardware store in Boulder Colorado.  He did seem to have some kind of special larger-than-life aura about him, maybe because of his imposing physical stature, or maybe because the hardware store employees were hyped up and scrambling for autographs.  But maybe it was the Zen thing. Jackson is a man who has mastered his internal space... which is why he can effectively lead others, be they basketball players or random consultants.

Fabulous, highly recommended.  A two page summary, written by me, is available for free download by clicking here.

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