What connects a Nobel-Prize winning economist and an NBA championship coach? Fair question.
Paul Samuelson died in December at the age of 94. To say that he shaped the field of economics in the 20th century and into the 21st is an understatement. As two MIT colleagues once wrote, “he has been more than a role model; he has been the role.” Samuelson shaped the practice of economics through his book, The Foundations of Economic Analysis, and his textbook, Economics. He had a hand in teaching at least seven other Nobel laureates and reached 4 million students around the globe over 60 years with his textbook. Probably his greatest accomplishment was developing what he called the “neoclassical synthesis.” When an economy is near full employment, the forces of supply and demand will create equilibrium. But, when employment falls, then government must intervene through spending, tax cuts and lowering interest rates.
Phil Jackson, on the other hand, is still very much alive. He came to mind when I read how Kurt Rambis, who played for Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers, is installing the triangle offense in his new job as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jackson first used the triangle with the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and has since gone on to use it in coaching the Lakers to four championships. Jackson learned the triangle from a veteran coach named Tex Winter who had learned it from a USC and Iowa coach named Sam Barry. The triangle “teaches players how to play. It teaches players how to move without the basketball, how to read defenses, how to play together,” Rambis said.
Both Samuelson and Jackson became experts in their chosen fields and both benefited from the teachings of others. They both, in turn, dedicated significant portions of their careers to refining what they learned and then passing those lessons on to others.
In the day-to-day pressure of , it’s easy to forget what shaped you as a leader and way too easy to overlook the opportunities you have to shape the next generation of leaders. Those opportunities exist in any field of leadership whether it’s economics, sports or anything else you’re involved in.
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