Coaching Your Team to Success: It’s More Than Xs and Os

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On May 27, 2013

Business leaders may not thing of themselves primarily as coaches. And yet, successful leaders tend to be good coaches. That’s because most successful businesses rely on the combined efforts of the team. In most athletic contests, the coach never even touches the ball (or the puck, for my hockey enthusiast friends). The coach’s job is to make sure that the players are prepared to execute at a high level. The coach also needs to be prepared to make necessary adjustments along the way.

When we think of coaches, we often have a visual image of a person on the sidelines with a clipboard, frantically sketching out Xs and Os during time outs. But as important as strategy (the Xs and Os) is to business success, that’s not a coach’s main job.

Phil Jackson is without question one of the most successful coaches in history. His recently released book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, takes its title from the 11 NBA championship rings he won as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers (By the way, he also won two more rings as a player with the New York Knicks). But his book really isn’t about basketball. It’s about coaching and leadership. It’s about how to get more out of those around you and the experiences you share with them.

Jackson didn’t play for the Chicago Bulls, but he had a pretty good player on his roster. But even Michael Jordan’s immense talent wasn’t enough to win a championship without the team. How did Jackson get Jordan to involve the whole team?

I didn’t dictate to him what I wanted; I simply pushed him to think about the problem in a different way, mostly by asking him questions about the impact that this or that strategy might have on the team. I treated him like a partner, and slowly he began to shift his way of thinking. When I let him solve the problem himself, he was more likely to buy into the solution . . .

When Jackson moved on to Los Angeles, he had a similar experience. It wasn’t Kobe Bryant’s shooting or ball-handling skills during their championship run in 2009 that ultimately mattered.

The most gratifying thing of all was watching Kobe transform from a selfish, demanding player into a leader that his teammates wanted to follow.

Jackson didn’t need to hone the physical skills of his superstars. He focused on their leadership capabilities.

What I’ve learned over the years is that the most effective approach is to delegate authority as much as possible and to nurture everyone else’s leadership skills as well. When I’m able to do that, it not only builds team unity and allows others to grow but also, paradoxically, strengthens my role as leader.

So what does Phil Jackson see at the key to repeated success?

The key to sustained success is to keep growing as a team. Winning is about moving into the unknown and creating something new. Remember that scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when someone asks Indy what he’s going to do next, and he replies, “I don’t know. I’m making it up as we go along.” That’s how I view leadership.

Phil Jackson certainly did his share of sketching out Xs and Os on the sidelines. But in his book, he also confesses that most of his strategies were pretty simple. That’s because he know that the key to success wasn’t in the Xs and Os. It was in his team and getting key players to take the vision as their own and lead others.

You can check out Phil Jackson’s book for yourself. But if you’d like to talk to someone about the specifics of coaching your team so that you can get the most out of your key players, give me a call.

We’ll talk about a lot more than just Xs and Os.