What Sales Leaders Can Learn from NBA's Phil Jackson

What Sales Leaders Can Learn from NBA's Phil Jackson | The Brooks Group

Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches of all time. He holds the highest winning percentage in basketball history achieved over his two decades of coaching—winning 11 championship rings.

What’s the secret to Jackson’s powerhouse leadership, and what can the rest of us learn from it?

As it turns out, sales leaders can learn a lot from Phil Jackson’s leadership approach—and apply it with our own teams to drive high performance. 

Here are 4 legendary leadership lessons that sales leaders can learn from Phil Jackson’s coaching approach.

Leadership Lesson #1: Get to Know Every Member of Your Team

In a podcast interview with Lewis Howes, Kobe Bryant spoke about his former coach and what made him so successful.

“Phil wouldn’t just coach the team, he'd learn everything he could about every single player… It gives him a better understanding of what’s motivating you, what your insecurities are, and it just helps him communicate with you better—or even push a button if he needs to.”

Implement It:

Get to know your team members, and go beyond just learning what they like to do on the weekends.

To be a highly effective coach, you should understand the behavior style, motivators, and communication preferences of each of your sales reps. Luckily there are assessment tools that allow you to do that—to “look under the hood” and see what makes each one of your people tick.

That knowledge allows you to adapt your coaching style to match your people, and speak to them in a way that hits home and drives them to act. 

Leadership Lesson #2: Mindfully Build a Culture of Collaboration and High Performance

According to Phil Jackson, the key to building a strong team is being able to overcome multiple egos and have everyone work together towards a single goal.

Sales leaders can most likely relate to dealing with a group of people with strong, individualistic personalities. The key is to intentionally foster a positive culture among the team.

Implement It:

Encourage partnership and collaboration between your team members by identifying areas where each person excels, and letting them share their knowledge with the group.

For example, if one of your sales reps has been successful in a particular stage of the sales process, ask them to share their winning tactics at your next sales meeting.

A good leader doesn’t just have strong players, but also knows where to place those strong players so that they work together and bring out the best in one another.

Leadership Lesson #3: Know What Each Role Requires, and Fill it With the Right Player

Often throughout Jackson’s career as a coach, he had to change the roles of players to fit the needs of the team. Initially, Kobe Bryant – despite his massive success – didn’t have the experience to be a co-captain on the team, even though he really wanted to be one.

Implement It:

This kind of insight is necessary to avoid succession planning mistakes – like promoting your team’s top salesperson to a sales manager role.

It’s also critical when hiring new sales reps.

A great sales leader understands in detail what a specific role needs for success. They establish a blueprint for what a top performer looks like, and then they hire a sales candidate with those attributes.

This can be done through behavior style interviewing, as well as with an assessment tool, which we recommend.

(Find a free list of behavioral interview questions at the bottom of this post) 

Leadership Lesson #4: Empower Team Members Instead of Managing Them

One big way Jackson differentiates himself from the typical “alpha” leader is that he knows when to let go of his authority and share it with other members of the group.

“Needless to say, the coaching profession attracts a lot of control freaks who remind everyone constantly that they’re the alpha dog in the room… what I’ve learned over the years is that the most effective approach is to delegate authority as much as possible and 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 a leader.”

This leadership lesson is a perfect fit for sales leaders who have a never-ending to-do list, and not enough time to complete it.

Implement It:

Sure, it might be tempting to helicopter in on your sales reps’ opportunities to fix a problem or ensure everything goes just how you think it should. But this approach doesn’t empower your team members—it stunts their growth.

Stick to regular one-to-one coaching sessions with your sales reps. In this setting, you can talk about opportunities, which stage of the sales process they’re in, and give your advice for how to handle any difficult situations.

You can also make use of the 3-2-1 coaching method.

By providing a structured coaching format for your reps to learn and course correct, you’ll save yourself time and help each member of your team reach their full potential.


Phil Jackson created a winning leadership formula that can cross the line from sports to almost every other arena of life. His formula can certainly be applied to improve the performance of your sales team.

Jackson’s most important leadership lesson is to maximize the potential of your personnel. From hiring the right people, to onboarding and training them effectively, and coaching each team member to reach their peak performance levels.

When you're investing in sales training, be sure that new skills become habit for your team by enabling your sales managers to become master sales coaches. 

Coaching to IMPACT is a one-day workshop that teaches sales managers a proven system for coaching and reinforcing the IMPACT process with their team. View the video below to learn more. 


Weekly Sales Team Meeting Agenda Template

Download a free Sales Team Meeting Agenda that you can use as a template the next time you get your team together.


Lisa Rose

Lisa Rose is a Group Vice President of Sales at The Brooks Group. Lisa has passion for helping managers develop a unique, motivational sales culture in their organizations. She can drive sales managers who merely put out fires day to day to flourish as visionaries who can motivate their team and generate results for their sales organizations.

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