Passive/Aggressive management and the Lakers

There’s something familiar about Kobe Bryant’s description about the style his coach, Phil Jackson uses. As this article explains, his teamates sometimes get upset when Jackson zings players in the media, but Bryant says:

“…when you’ve been around Phil for as many years as I have, we all understand that he likes coaching publicly,” Bryant said. “I think it’s important for the new guys to understand that. Ron, Pau, guys that kind of have issues with that, that’s how he coaches. It’s fine. Just let him do his job and go about your business.”

When someone you trust conveys private messages in public, you are being abused. They are enlisting the shame and shock of hearing feedback for the first time in public as  a way to to intimidate you into behaving the way they want. It’s both insecure and immature. It happens every day in some workplaces and families, where people with less power are constantly surprised and belittled in front of their peers.

It’s a weak way for people in power to abuse their influence. They are confusing the fear it creates in other people with respect. Victimizing those around you only makes everyone weaker.

A stronger way for someone in power to communicate is to speak directly and privately. Giving the other person a chance to consider and respond, things denied when messages are expressed for the first time in front of strangers.

See how to survive a bad manager.

9 Responses to “Passive/Aggressive management and the Lakers”

  1. David Heffernan

    It’s quite hard to fathom what possessed you to hold Phil Jackson up as a bad manager. You are aware of what he has achieved? It seems that in the new age of the blogger that a single anecdote can be used to prove almost anything!

  2. Scott Berkun


    Taking Mr. Jackson out of the equation, would you prefer that your boss, spouse or coworkers voice their complaints about you to the entire world first, or to you first?

    I’ve never worked for Mr. Jackson, so I can’t call him a bad manager, and I was careful not to here. I did use specific example as a bad one, as it’s hard to defend why anyone should be treated this way as a general rule.

    > You are aware of what he has achieved?

    There are many examples of people who achieved great things while simultaneously treating those around them poorly. Whether Jackson is one of them or not, I can’t say. But to equate achievement with treating people well is a mistake.

  3. Michael Cutri

    While I agree with you that this is bad management in general, I think in the case of Phil Jackson, you have to take into account the people he is managing. These are guys that have been better than everyone else their entire lives and usually aren’t used to being criticized or having to work hard to be better. It must be difficult to try to coach/teach/instruct someone who thinks they are already the best and sometimes extreme measures probably need to be used to get through to the player. I’m willing to bet that Phil only uses this tactic when he feels it is necessary. I don’t remember him using this tactic with Jordan, but he had that incredible work ethic and desire to be better, so he was probably more receptive to traditional instruction methods.
    Ben Roethlisberger is another excellent example of this due to his early success. By his own admission he wasn’t very receptive to coaching until this year. What changed? He was embarrassed publicly. Afterwards, he decided to rededicate himself to being a better person and football player, and by all accounts his is much more receptive to instruction now. Before, he wouldn’t work hard at practice and thought he was “above” the little things, but now he does those things along with the rest of his teammates at practice.
    Sometimes, when dealing with someone with an inflated ego, embarrassment is the only way to get through to them.

  4. David Heffernan

    Michael Cutri is on the money here. These aren’t ordinary people here and some of them are pretty impossible to manage. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t like to manage Kobe Bryant. In the NBA I don’t believe that there is actually that much opportunity, in the middle of the season, for the coach to spend much time doing 1 to 1 management.

    What’s more I’m pretty sure most NBA players would do almost anything to be coached and managed by Jackson.

    If you are going to try to illustrate a point with an anecdote it really helps to have one that actually illustrates the point!

    P.S. I wouldn’t like my manager to manage me via the press, but then I don’t play in the NBA.

  5. Eric


    I think that quote from Kobe is taken out of context – Phil Jackson uses the public lever as the last resort of motivation. He did it with MJ as well when MJ would stop playing within the offense and wouldn’t trust his teammates for extended periods of time – it didn’t happen often but it did happen.

    From what I’ve seen, he only does it with the players with whom there is a lot of trust already – he rarely does it with the ones who are new to the team or whom are fringe players. He does it to his stars and he’s very specific about what he wants to achieve when he does it.

    Outside of the Phil Jackson scenario though, this type of leadership behaviour would be frowned upon.

  6. DS

    Well said. One of the VPs in our company used to behave this way (thankfully, I was never a recipient of the public scoldings). I always felt that was wrong behaviour, but you have articulated perfectly why it is wrong.

  7. Anthony

    I certainly think this is just his way of managing big egos, which he does so well. I’m not condoning this method of management, especially for typical office settings, but you can basically translate Kobe’s words into: “Hey, we’ve won multiple championships under this guy, just shut up and deal.” In professional basketball, I can’t say that’s the wrong attitude to have.

  8. Mike Nitabach

    Scott, your general point is an excellent one, but your example is poor. The reason is that the players on an NBA team are not weaker than the coach, and are frequently stronger: they make more money, have more influence with team management, etc.



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