Don’t Let Your Ego Get in the Way

The year was 1979. Phil Jackson was working as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise. In one game, the head coach was ejected and Jackson was asked to take over. The Nets were one point ahead going into the final seconds and had possession of the ball. Jackson called a time-out to outline the final play.

Before Jackson had a chance to speak, John Lee Williamson, the star player of the Nets, said “You’re going to go with ‘the man,’ right?”

“The Man” he was referring to was obviously himself. Phil Jackson was upset about his arrogance, and instead decided to go with Eric Money.

As play resumed, Eric Money caught the ball and moved it up the court for the final shot. Suddenly, the ball was stolen and a last-minute lay-up turned a Nets victory into a loss.

After the game, Williamson walked past Phil saying, “Told you that you should have gone with ‘The Man.’”

Jackson was angry at first, but later on he realized that he was actually to blame. Williamson may have been arrogant, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t an amazing clutch shooter. Jackson had let his ego get in the way and cost his team a crucial victory. In his autobiography, Sacred Hoops, Jackson talks about this incident and how he uses the memory to keep his ego in check.

Phil Jackson eventually evolved into the greatest NBA coach of all time. In the last two decades, he’s won ten NBA championships with two different teams. Like all successful coaches, he’s very intense, driven, and hard working. But what really sets him apart is ability to make objective decisions. In his mind, the team always comes first – above individual players and certainly above his personal ego.

After reading this story, I realized that I had work to do in this area as well. Here are a few of my biggest takeaways:

Take time to reflect: We lead busy lives and we often get caught up in the heat of the moment. It’s often hard to make effective decisions. This is why I try to take a few minutes for reflection at the end of each day.

Control Your Emotions: I’ve said before that emotions are a part of life, but they shouldn’t have an impact on critical decisions. It’s amazing how a few deep breaths and a few seconds of relaxation can clear our heads.

Stay Focused: Remember that you have a goal. How you feel in the moment is just another distraction. If you constantly react to your emotions, you'll never be able to focus on your actual objectives.

Has your ego ever gotten in the way of making a good decision?

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