Mark Jackson’s tenure was shipwrecked in three areas, and anyone who wants to be successful–in sports and particularly ministry–should heed them.
First, a huge disclaimer.
I don’t work in the NBA. I have no connections to anyone in the Golden State Warriors, True Love Worship Center International, or any of Mark Jackson’s previous employers. But I do know office politics when I see them. And I know pastors. And I love to follow the postmodern soap opera of NBA coaching. And I’m confident saying that in the final year of his contract, Mark Jackson made a living dancing along the combustible intersection of all three cultural fault lines – and it eventually blew up in his face.
For anyone who’d been following the saga of Jackson and the Golden State Warriors, the firing did not come as a shock. It barely even qualified as news. People saw this coming for months, perhaps even the entire season. On the surface, there are plenty of reasons why his stint as coach didn’t last longer than the three seasons in his contract, and when the news broke, capable analysts like CSN Bay Area’s Monte Poole did a great job of breaking down the sports-related reasons. And TrueHoop’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss provided a great overview of the duality of Jackson’s tenure, highlighting his strengths and weaknesses.
But I think if you look past the obvious stuff, there are some hidden lessons here. My sense, armchair quarterbacking though it may be, is that Mark Jackson is an excellent motivator, but his tenure was shipwrecked in three areas, and anyone who wants to be successful should heed them. These lessons are important for anyone who wants to be an effective basketball coach.
But for pastors, these lessons are absolutely critical.
Lesson #1: You can’t ignore the business side of things.
When I was considering launching a business-related venture with a friend of mine who owns his own business, one of the first things that he said to me was that if I was going to be successful, I would have two separate learning curves – learning to do the thing I wanted to be the best at, and also learning how to do it as a business. No matter what the business is, there are a whole set of skills related to how to bring it to market, find and retain customers, execute deliverables, and build a client or customer base, that are separate from the skills of being a good baker, attorney, musician, architect, or whatever.
From what I can see, Mark Jackson viewed his role as a basketball coach as completely separate and irrelevant from the business side of the Warriors organization. And while I think it’s healthy to have a certain amount of specialization so that people can concentrate on what they’re good at, in order for an organization to be successful, everyone needs a clear understanding of how their role fits into the larger whole, and I’m not sure if Mark Jackson and the upper management side were ever on the same page.
For months, sources reported on friction between Jackson and upper management, which led to a conflict that divided loyalties throughout the organization and even in his own staff. In a radio interview with Dan Patrick, Jackson talked about how important it is for people to “stay in their lane”:
“At the end of the day, I’m a guy that believes that you stay in your lane…you know how I am, you’ve watched how I handle people, it doesn’t match some of the things that are being said…I have a boss, and I talk to my boss and deal with my boss…I don’t know how to dance with the business folks, the other lane…I was on the mindset that basketball was basketball and anybody who had a mindset to talk about that, I could have a relationship with.”
Later Patrick asked Jackson if he failed to “play the game” for upper management:
“Did I play the game? Who’s game? My front office, yes. I did not play the other side, the business side… I didn’t go into the other side of people’s offices, and try to get out my lane and be running reckless all around the building, which I thought would be disrespectful… if the worst thing that can be said about me is that I didn’t [understand] the business side… well, that’s not why I was hired.”
These, in my opinion, are the words of a man who believes that his decision-making should never be questioned by those who are not in the trenches, day in and day out, doing the most meaningful work, which for Mark Jackson, meant the basketball side. In his view, anyone from the business side questioning his decisions or trying to provide input is being disrespectful.
And it’s no surprise that Mark Jackson is also a pastor, because many pastors have the same mindset. Particularly in the African-American church, where the pastor is often viewed as an unassailable authority on all matters of importance, many pastors tend to dismiss the feedback they receive from committee members, board members, deacons, or other subordinate leaders, because they feel that the important ministry work they perform justifies the validity of every decision they make.
But sometimes the business side becomes unavoidable. After all, it was the potential business impact to the NBA’s bottom line that made Donald Sterling expendable. And for pastors, sometimes it’s prudent to pay attention to the business side of things. It’s one thing to trust God and reach forward in faith despite not seeing evidence, but sometimes the evidence is part of the way God speaks.
After all, you can’t expect people to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ inside your church building if you lose your church building because you can’t pay the mortgage.
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