Tanner Talks (6/1/2020): Fresh Articles, Phil Jackson’s Leadership, and the Impact of the Highly-Unlikely

Hey,

Greetings from sizzling Chandler, AZ!

After two weeks of splendid weather, the temperatures are rising fast. The three week forecast looks like we’ve finally hit the point in the year where a day under 100 is a merciful act of God.

No bother. We have air conditioning and the thermostat to my right tells me it’s currently 73 in the apartment. Ahhhh, beautiful.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s no baseball right now. With no bullpens to watch or coaching decisions to make, I’ve been able to spend more time writing. It’s been good, and I wrote three new articles that I think you’ll be interested in.

  1. Should You Get That Certification? People may say they’re doing it to learn, but I suspect the real reason coaches flock to certification courses is that certifications seem to be the best thing coaches have to show that they’re good at their jobs.
  2. Secrets about Players There are two types of secrets: secrets of nature and secrets about people. While the idea of secrets comes from the world of startups, great coaches know that they’re looking to discover a secret hidden from the outsiders. My conclusion: secrets about players seems to be under-explored and are ripe for exploitation.
  3. Contrarianism is Not Enough Billionaire co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management Howard Marks once wrote, “Non-consensus views can make money for you, but to do so they must be right.” The article walks through the different levels of beliefs (see the matrix below) and gives you examples of each to help you identify what’s going on in the world around you.

With all of that out of the way, here’s what I want to share with you today:

  • How the greatest NBA coach of all-time thought about leadership
  • The impact of highly-improbable events in our lives
  • A technique to avoid the dreaded, “So, what do you do?” question

Book of the Week

After The Last Dance, I moved Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson to the front of my reading list. I’ll give it a 3.5/5 rating. I enjoyed the insider stories of locker room conflict and how Phil tried to navigate it and some of his musings on leadership.

There is one main idea I want to pull out and share with you today.

Tribal Leadership

One of the more interesting themes of the book was his application of Tribal Leadership, a book that analyzed the success factors of small-to-midsize organizations. Jackson believed in this framework so much that he mentioned it throughout his book.

I think the idea is useful for any leader, and want to share these ideas with you.

There are five stages of tribal leadership. Jackson describes each early in the book:

Stage 1 – shared by most street gangs and characterized by despair, hostility, and the collective belief that “life sucks.”

Stage 2 – filled primarily with apathetic people who perceive themselves as victims and who are passively antagonistic, with the mind-set that “my life sucks.” Think The Office on TV or the Dilbert comic strip.

Stage 3 – focused primarily on individual achievement and driven by the motto “I’m great (and you’re not).” According to the authors, people in organizations at this stage “have to win, and for them winning is personal. They’ll outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. The mood that results is a collection of ‘lone warriors.'”

Stage 4 – dedicated to tribal pride and the overriding conviction that “we’re great (and they’re not).” This kind of team requires a strong adversary, and the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.

Stage 5 – a rare stage characterized by a sense of innocent wonder and the strong belief that “life is great.” (Bulls, 1995-1998)

Over the course of the book, Jackson highlighted the different transitions his Bulls and Lakers teams went through as they ascended the stages of tribal leadership.

Most notably, he believed that the 1995-98 Bulls teams had become a stage 5 team. In Jackson’s words:

“I’m often asked to reveal the secret of the 1995-96 Bulls, which some consider the greatest basketball team ever assembled…In truth, it was a confluence of forces that came together in the fall of 1995 to transform the Bulls into a new breed of championship team. From a tribal-leadership perspective, the Bulls were moving from being a stage 4 team to a stage 5. The first series of championships transformed the Bulls from an “I’m great, you’re not” team to a “We’re great, they’re not” team. But for the second series, the team adopted a broader, “Life is great” point of view. By midseason it became clear to me that it wasn’t competition per se that was driving the team; it was simply the joy of the game itself. This dance was ours, and the only team that could compete against us was ourselves.”

Stage 5 teams like the 95-98 Bulls are extremely rare. Jackson points out that the Lakers teams he led–who had a 3-peat of their own–never got past stage 4 as a group. Egos got in the way and blocked the team from becoming all that it could. The main thing I took away was how difficult it is to move to stage 5. Jackson seems to be alluding to this when he talks of Kobe’s transformation as a leader. Reflecting on the 2008-09 championship, Jackson wrote,

“The most gratifying thing of all was watching Kobe transform from a selfish, demanding player into a leader that his teammates wanted to follow. To get there, Kobe had to learn to give in order to get back in return. Leadership is not about forcing your will on others. It’s about mastering the art of letting go.

The journey towards becoming a stage 5 tribe reminds me an awful lot of Jim Collins’ concept of a “Level 5 leader” from Good to Great.

I think it’s fair to say that teams need level 5 leaders before they can become a stage five tribe. The two work in harmony.

I’ll end with this: if the team you’re on isn’t where you want it to be, checking in with where you are on the hierarchy is a great place to start.

Article of the Week

The Three Sides of Risk

Morgan Housel opens up about a gut-wrenching story from his adolescence. After reading it, you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for the life you live and a better understanding of how risk affects the way you live that wonderful life of yours.

My favorite quote from the article (which you’ll have to read to fully understand):

“But once you go through something like that, you realize that the tail-end consequences – the low-probability, high-impact events – are all that matter.”

Random Bit of the Week

Frontfoot vs. Backfoot Questions

One day, we’re going to have to socialize again. As an extreme extrovert, I cannot freakin’ wait.

The idea of frontfoot vs. backfoot questions was introduced to me by a member of the Farnam Street Learning Community.

The discussion was around what we like to ask people when we meet them. We were trying to find a question better than, “So…..what do you do?”.

Here’s what the insightful member said:Another frame I like to use is an idea of frontfoot vs. backfoot questions.A backfoot question puts someone on their heels, kind of leaning back and searching for an answer. Some of the “heavier” questions mentioned above can have this effect. You’ll minimize this by throwing it in later to deepen a conversation, rather than starting with it. Starting a conversation with ““How do you choose to suffer?” (unless maybe you’re at a mixer before a Buddhist meditation retreat where I could see that working well – context is key) is likely going to be a backfoot question.

A frontfoot question puts someone at ease, gives them something to work with, and conversationally brings them towards you. I think the quote below is a fun and unusual approach to a frontfoot question.
“Let me ask you something – and be honest. How late is TOO late to still have your Christmas lights up?”

Notice the building of tension, and then the massive release when they realize the question is not the threat they were expecting. Frontfoot questions are endearing, and a great way to make a connection with just about anyone.

Photo of the Week

One of the highlights of my sports fandom was the 2014-15 Wisconsin Badgers’ men’s basketball season. The Badgers rolled all the way to the NCAA final, but were defeated by Duke. I will go to my grave certain that Justice Winslow touched the ball and that the refs gifted Duke the game.

You can tell I’ve moved on.

You may remember the Sad Teletubby that graced our screens after the game.

Well, did you know that the Sad Teletubby is my childhood best friend?

He’s the most passionate Badgers fan I’ve ever met and I couldn’t help but smile when I rewatched the game while eating Sunday pizza in quarantine.


That wraps up this week’s newsletter.

If you want to discuss any of the ideas mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of Tanner Talks, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending me a direct message on Twitter at @treklaitis.

Until next time,

Tanner