CEoga PHIL JACKSON'S MAGIC: SURRENDER

 NBA Coach Phil Jackson

NBA Coach Phil Jackson

"When a player surrenders his self-interest for the greater good, his fullest gifts as an athlete are manifested."
~ Phil Jackson, Sacred Hoops

 

Employees and managers alike long to learn the magic of working better as a team. In this simple quote — from a coach who has achieved 13 National Basketball Association championships (two as a player) — the “magic” is revealed. It’s neither trick nor spell that creates the magic.  It is a kind of alchemy.

“Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.”

Think of a time when you were part of a group working on a project or toward a goal where people felt completely connected. Recall an experience where everyone on your team knew deep in their bones that individual contributions were coalescing to create a greater good.

What was going on for you? What conditions existed? How did you feel about yourself, your partners, and the work?  

“The fact is, selflessness is the soul of teamwork.”

Jackson coaching philosophy has helped build phenomenal basketball teams. He blends the principles of Zen Buddhism and teachings from the Lakota Sioux. Like those wisdom traditions, yoga also has much to say about deepening individuals’ connections to themselves, improving relationships with others, and achieving results through superior teamwork. “Magic” happens when people are intentional about why they are working together and are willing to surrender ego to something larger than self. They are willing to give an effort all they have, and then surrender their attachment to the outcome as they stay fully present in the moment.  In yoga, such surrender is called ishvara-pranidhana, and translates as “offering the fruits of one’s efforts to the divine” (i.e. the greater good).

“If the 9, 10, 11, 12 players are unhappy . . . their negativity is going to undermine everything."

Surrendering personal wants at work is an experience anyone can create. You can choose to let go of your need to be right, your desire to win, your insistence on having  your way, your egotistical impulse to look good at the expense of others. All of these things distract from connecting with your best self and with others. Clinging to "me" in the face of "we" is a disservice to the magical experience that can emerge when you surrender to something greater than yourself.  



WHY BEING PRESENT WORKS BETTER

We’ve been working with a client for several weeks now, using an appreciative inquiry, strengths-based approach to organizational change. As we were going over a feedback report with a group of managers recently, I asked them if it reflected the organization. At first, silence. Then some quiet buzzing among the group.

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Finally someone spoke up: “This report reflects the questions you asked during our last meetings. You asked for stories about when things were going well and people felt connected to their work. This report captures that, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the organization. We don’t always have a “we’re-in-this-together” feeling, especially across the organization as a whole.”

Without hesitating, I asked them to break up into small groups and talk about what was missing from the report — what needed to be added to create a more accurate picture?  As they began conversing, Maren pulled me aside and asked, “Where are we going with this? I thought we were doing appreciative inquiry, and you are asking them to identify problems.” My answer of "I don't know" didn’t satisfy her. Panic began to set in. Why had I asked them to do that? Had I derailed things? And how would we get back on track? Maren pressed the issue, saying, “I don’t know how to participate if I don’t know what the plan is.” I got edgy in my responses, and she felt attacked.

The incident was a good reminder of the benefits of staying present, and how "off-the-mat" yoga practices can help. Often I feel trapped by what has already happened (the past) and what might happen (the future). If I had managed to stay fully present, I would have been open to Maren's questions instead of becoming defensive and edgy.

For example, a few slow, conscious breaths (pranayama) creates space to slow down the runaway voices in my head. Breathing helps me get in touch with my source and ask the most important question: "Who do I want to be in this moment? And what actions can I take to help me be that person?"

Another useful practice is surrender (ishvara-pranidhana). The panic I felt in the face of Maren's questions was related to vulnerability — I wanted to be right, and I did not want to look stupid.  Surrendering my ego makes it easier to engage in curiousity, humility, humor, and creativity, which would have been far more useful in that moment. Surrendering also means letting go of my emotional attachment to the outcome, which is acknowledging what is true — I am not in charge of how things turn out. Doing my best to serve clients is always my intention. Even so, I recognized that how things unfold is out of my control.

Finally, I could have been kinder in my response to Maren, employing the practice of ahimsa (do no harm) so that she did not feel attacked.

In the end, the questions I asked the client group to talk about sparked a rich, useful discussion that did not derail the meeting at all. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to — it was fine. And the reflections prompted by the incident with Maren reminds us both that yoga is a practice. As our work together continues, we will have many more opportunities for that.


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