The following is Part II of a five-part series that I will be releasing over the next few weeks. Be sure to read Part I first, to get a better understanding of this topic.
Developmental Assessment of Phil Jackson
While less than one percent of all adults in the world’s population operate from the fifth-order of development (the highest known stage) within CDT1, it may be a bit presumptuous or overzealous to assess Jackson in that self-transformational category. However, when taking into account his continued dominance year after year in the cut-throat and highly competitive world of the NBA—with 11 championship rings as a coach and a recent five-year $60 million contract as president of the New York Knicks—one has to consider that there is something incredibly special about this man. This overall level of sustained performance and achievement is nothing short of astounding, so to group him in the top one percent of most successful people in the world would certainly not be an exaggeration by any means.
Success in itself however, does not necessarily equate to higher orders of development and there is only limited research that connects developmental order to success.2 However, constructive-developmental theorists argue that greater mental complexity would certainly allow for the possibility of increased balance and success in life depending on the context and environment.3 In other words, people with higher levels of development can more readily deal with greater challenges in life; certainly, coaching basketball at the professional level is no walk in the park on a psychological and emotional level. So, to be successful in challenging settings like coaching at an elite level, higher orders of psychological development may be predictive of performance and achievement.
Not suprisingly, Jackson’s own success seems to be supported by an extremely high level of development from a CDT perspective, especially in regards to leadership abilities. There is a great deal of evidence that supports the idea that Jackson is operating from a self-transformational level of mind which is summarized as, “less likely to see the world in terms of dichotomies or polarities . . . are more oriented to the process of leadership than to any single product or outcome,”.4 In order to provide some further context for interpreting Jackson’s self-transformational mind, this review will also utilize Helsing and Lahey’s summary of fifth-order developmental leadership capacities of:
(1) Reflect on own and other’s belief systems or ideologies to identify larger patterns.
(2) Orient to the dialectical or paradoxical, welcoming contradiction and oppositeness.
(3) Understand own selves and leadership identities as always revisable, evolving.5
Although Helsing and Lahey’s work was done within the confines of a corporate setting while studying the qualities of leadership in the workplace, the implications for this research towards coaching in the athletic world are clear. As will be demonstrated in this particular case-study, Jackson fits the bill for all three of these developmental markers quite strongly in his spiritual and personal life, in his interpersonal relationships with individuals, and in his leadership role with collective groups or teams.
Chop Wood, Carry Water…
To begin with Helsing and Lahey’s first bullet point on leadership, Jackson’s ability to, “reflect on own and other’s belief systems or ideologies to identify larger patterns,” is apparent in observing his spiritual development throughout the course of his life. His constructive-developmental capacities seem “freakish” in that his natural inclination and propensity towards higher orders of personal evolution are astounding.
One explanatory factor for this may have started as he dealt with life-threatening health issues at only 11 years old. A growth in his throat and a heart murmur prohibited from being physically active for an entire year. Jackson recalled that as he was laid up in bed one night with a high fever, “I felt a powerful surge of energy radiating through my body that was much stronger and more consuming than anything I’d ever experienced before,”.6 It seems that this early state-experience and his mother’s daily inquiry of, “If you died today . . . would you meet your maker in heaven?,” pushed him to start questioning his own existence and having a more open and receptive mind from a very young age.7 Technically speaking, this story does not explain much about Jackson’s personal development in an objective manner, but the recollection of his subjective experience as a child certainly sets the stage for his evolution as an individual.
Throughout his autobiography, Jackson utilizes many quotes from spiritual teachers, psychologists, philosophers, and writers throughout his book as guideposts pointing towards his own subjective spiritual experience and beyond. It could be argued that Jackson leans on others’ theories to define his own identity and is living more from third-order or socialized mind. At this level of development, Jackson would be subject to the rules and ideals of these authority figures and construct his own identity around their spiritual teachings. However, it is not what or who he quotes, but how he uses these teachings which are of importance in this CDT exploration. As this paper will explore, it is his ability to hold these various spiritual paths and ideologies as object and interweave them together into a complex tapestry, along with his application of them towards his own life experience that is so astoundingly complex. Certainly, Jackson may be inspired by various spiritual teachings and practices, but it his capacity to hold, examine, and incorporate these ideologies into his everyday life, especially in coaching basketball, that is truly remarkable.
While most adults remain stuck in the third-order socialized mind and struggle to bridge into fourth-order self-authoring mind, Jackson displayed hints of touching into this latter stage as a young man. Having grown up in a strict and devoted Pentecostal family, he began to reject his family’s faith and search for a way to form his own personal relationship with God. Many adolescents or young adults may rebel against their families’ religion and find a new spiritual path—very often though, this type of seeking indicates a socialized level of mind since they are simply finding another group to identify with and they are still subject to mutuality. Jackson on the other hand, seemed to be looking for different teachings and practices through which he could create his own belief system. (It should be noted that a person’s religiosity does not indicate their level of identity development; rather, it is how one approaches their religion or spiritual path and makes meaning of their faith, which is more indicative of developmental capacities.)
In college, he became exposed to meditation at this time and he viewed it, “as a way to experience inner silence and plug into your intuitive wisdom,” and was inspired by William James, whose writings, “showed me how my search to find a new, more authentic spiritual identity fit within the vast landscape of American culture,”.8 This idea of authenticity seems to indicate that Jackson was beginning to hold both culture and mutuality as object. At this young age, Jackson was able to hold his family’s religion and faith as object and began to see that he had the power to create his own path to God, which is very much a self-authoring capacity that usually comes later in life for most people. This illustrates a highly developed order of mind for a college-aged man and these faith-based explorations may have put Jackson towards the honors path of development.9
Later in life as a middle-aged man, Jackson found the teachings of Zen Buddhism to resonate most deeply for him and he has incorporated a daily meditation practice into his life for many years. It is quite possible that meditation may be the most efficacious factor in Jackson’s astounding development. In fact, a ten-year longitudinal study done by Chandler, Alexander, and Heaton found that transcendental meditation was a significant predictor for advanced levels of development. The authors explained, “Development toward the higher reaches of human potential requires a means to systematically transcend thought,”.10 It seems highly plausible that Jackson’s own meditative practice was the “rocket fuel” for his growth as he explained, “It took me years of practice to still my busy mind, but in the process I discovered that the more aware I became of what was going on inside me, the more connected I became to the world outside,”.11 This committed meditative practice may have allowed Jackson to transcend mental thought and hold concepts around self-authorship, ideology, and identity as object.
Jackson also clearly holds a deep awareness that that life itself is a spiritual practice as he lives by the motto, “chop wood, carry water,”.12 Furthermore, he cited Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching that, “For transformation to take place, we have to practice mindfulness all day long, not just on our meditation cushion,”.13 Jackson has the remarkable ability to hold his theories and ideologies as object and see that his life experience is intertwined with his spiritual path and vice versa; in essence, meditation has allowed him to hold his own self-authored identity, based upon his beliefs and practices, to become object—in doing so, he is able to see that life is a spiritual practice in itself. All of these pieces of evidence point to the possibility that Jackson has entered into the highly complex and balanced fifth-order self-transformational mind as a middle-aged adult.14
Click on these links to read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV , and Part V of this series.
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1 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
2 McCauley, C.D., Drath, W.H., Palus, C.J., O’Connor, P.M.G., & Baker, B.A. (2006). The use of constructive-developmental theory to advance the understanding of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 634–653
3 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
4 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 23
5 Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
6 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 43
7 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 46
8 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 49
9 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
10 Chandler, H.M., Alexander, C.N., & Heaton, D.P. (2011). The transcendental meditation program and postconventional self-development: A 10-year longitudinal study. In Llewellyn, D., & Pearson, C. (Eds.), Consciousness-Based Education: A Foundation for Teaching and Learning in the Academic Disciplines (381-422). Fairfield, IA: Consciousness-Based Books
11 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 52
12 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 291
13 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 137
14 Shore, S.K. (2014). The rough notes: Identifying orders of mind. (Unpublished class notes). Harvard University, Cambridge, MA