Phil Jackson and Pat Riley – Superstar Management

Coaches Phil Jackson and Pat Riley

What do Phil Jackson and Pat Riley have in common besides both once coaching the Los Angeles Lakers? They both took over NBA teams that already had superstars in place before their arrival as head coach. In Phil Jackson’s case, he did it twice. Michael Jordan was already on the Chicago Bulls roster and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers when Phil Jackson became head coach of each of those teams. When Pat Riley took over the Lakers, Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Irving “Magic” Johnson were on the team, and later, when he took over coaching for the Miami Heat, Dwaine Wade and Shaquille O’Neal were on the team. Before Riley arrived, the Lakers were already a championship team, but Johnson was stating that he wanted to be traded because of the head coach. One can assume that if Riley had not arrived, Johnson would have eventually been traded before they won several other championships. The Bulls did not win a championship until Jackson came on board. Why were Riley and Jackson able to get the best out of superstar athletes when others had tried and failed? Both coaches have been described as great motivators. Phil Jackson is quoted as saying, With the Bulls, 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. It requires individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts (National Petroleum News 2011, 13).

This philosophy also holds true for supervisors/managers, and the best way to achieve cohesion and success with your team is to have open communication with direct reports. Show them how their duties or special projects tie into the big picture – that is, how does their work help achieve the department goals, as well as organizational goals. We may erroneously assume that those who work for us do so for the greater good or at the very least their paycheck. But even the most altruistic employee may at some point ask, “Why am I here and what value does my being here have?” Supervisors and managers can keep employees motivated by keeping them aware of the goals and strategic initiatives of the department and the organization. Even  workers who collect the trash should believe they are contributing positively to the organization.

How do you impart value to those who work with and for you?


National Petroleum News. May/June 2011. “Coaching a Winning Team: A page from Coach Phil Jackson,” 103, 4: 13.


About LaKo

I'm a sports enthusiast who looks for lessons and analogies in sports and tries to apply those lessons to my personal and work life. In May 2013 I began my life as a runner with Black Girls Run!. Now, as a member of the Atlanta Track Club, I'm continuing my journey to preserve my sexy.
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