7 Things We Can Learn From Michael Jordan’s Career
I recently attended a brand-wide conference for a business partner of mine, who happens to be the seasoned CEO of a large franchise chain, that has a 200+ unit footprint throughout the southeast United States.
As he got up in front of his franchise owners and operators, he began to talk about teamwork, and one his core analogies were the phases of Michael Jordan’s career. He did a good job relating MJ’s career phases to his franchisees, and I left intrigued to dig a little further on the topic.
Now if you know me just a little, you know I’m a huge sports fan and I pride myself on knowing every and any fact I can, regarding the history of each sport, who did what, what team won the championship each season, what player went to what school, records set, etc…
But most of my knowledge was acquired at a time where I didn’t understand what it took for these athletes and teams to actually accomplish what they did – I had limited perspective because I learned these facts as a teen with limited perspective on life, compared to the perspective I have now, as a husband, father, friend and president of a nationwide fitness franchise.
So, when I left the conference, I dove back in to Michael Jordan’s career, to explore and see what I could learn that I either had forgotten or might have never knew about in the first place.
If you like sports, you’re going to leave this article ready to run through a wall!
OK — so we all love Michael Jordan. And if you don’t think he’s the best ever, well; you’re just plain crazy. Sorry, but come on. Six NBA Finals. Six Titles. Six Finals MVPs. That is all that needs to be said.
Because of all of MJ’s championships, seldom do you hear talk of MJ’s first six seasons, each of which ended with a loss and a great deal of frustration.
Despite winning scoring titles early on, MJ couldn’t figure out how to garner the same success for his Chicago Bulls team, as he was experiencing for himself – for instance, he averaged an NBA-leading 37.1 points per game (ppg) in the 1986-87 season, but yet his team was swept 3-0 in the first round of the 1987 NBA Playoffs to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
Keep in mind, since that 1986-87 season (almost 30 years ago), not one scoring champ has exceeded 37.1 ppg, with only two players getting within two points per game of this number; Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 ppg to lead the NBA in scoring in the 2005-06 season and MJ averaged 35.0 ppg to lead the NBA in scoring in the 1987-88 season. Woah.
Basically, MJ was a great leader, as far as being the leading scorer. But that was about it.
As sensational as his individual talent was, MJ needed somebody to teach him how to engage his team to win games in a team sport that he happened to be approaching more as an individual.
This is something that anyone who has grown into any sort of leadership role, can relate to completely. Think about it. Most people are thrusted into a leadership role solely because they are great at doing something – they have talent. Not because they’ve displayed leadership capacity.
So naturally, the next move up in the organization chart, is for them to be a leader of a team, in a role where they are asked to influence other people to be the superstars that they had previously been in that same role. But it’s a totally different skill-set that they must learn to be as good of a leader as they were as a producer.
This same thing happens with business owners, who launch a business that requires them to play just about every role there is, from sales to marketing to product development to finance, and in between. These business owners successfully wear all these hats to prove the concept and grow their business. But then, the business owner who had the great idea and did everything to make it happen, now has to hire, develop and lead others to get their business to the next level.
MJ couldn’t play point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center and coach, all at once! He had to let go or else he’d never win.
I’ve had to go on a similar journey in my own career as an entrepreneur. I’ve struggled with finding the right people, trusting them, and ultimately; letting go so that they can fly as the superstars God’s intended them to be!
MJ’s story has seven core takeaways that I’ve had to learn in my own career as well.
I sat down with my oldest daughter, Savanah, to use our Apple Final Cut Pro editing program, to cut up an awesome MJ Documentary from the ESPN Sportcentury series. The one minute video snippets below, work in conjunction with these seven takeaways, to tell the story of MJ’s journey from scoring leader to team leader and six-time champion.
The State Of MJ: Pre-NBA Champion
I’ve learned from several CEOs and Leaders, much smarter than me, that leadership is the process of doing just that; letting go!
So how did MJ transform from a guy who couldn’t win in the playoffs to the best NBA player of all-time, who’s teams won six NBA Titles? What did it take for him to go from MJ the league’s top scorer to MJ the NBA Champ and G.O.A.T.?
1. Mentorship – MJ needed somebody who knew better than he did, and wasn’t afraid to tell him! You need a leader to lead you to become a leader.
Forrest has taught me countless ways to let go and become more than just a producer for our business, but instead, how to focus on leading the people on my team to be the best producers they can be for our team. And we have honest conversations regularly, which is integral to getting the feedback I need to continue being a best President for our company that I can be, and for me to give him that same feedback to be the best CEO he can be.
2. Transparency – You must open yourself to direct conversations. For MJ to truly know where he fell short, Phil Jackson couldn’t hold back. And, as you can imagine, Phil had a lot on the line. MJ was the franchise player for the Chicago Bulls. If Phil couldn’t get along with him, the Bulls would most likely choose MJ over him.
But Phil knew that if he didn’t tell MJ where he fell short and why the Bulls were losing, MJ may have kept playing the same way and never won a title – could you imagine that!?! Instead, Phil helped him get his head around this new offense and gradually gain belief in its philosophy.
3. Unselfishness – You will have to think about your team before yourself. It was a process, but Phil got MJ to continuously do this more and more, to the point that when he finally was in a defining moment in the 1991 NBA Finals against legend Magic Johnson and the LA Lakers, MJ deferred to his team first and it resulted in the Bulls’ first NBA Title.
4. Trust: You Trust Them & They Trust You – You will learn to believe in your team. MJ trusted his teammates in specific moments that showed it was genuine, and this pulled everyone together in a way where they were operating as a true team that nobody else could stop.
Once they know you believe in them, your team will believe in you. MJ and the Bulls couldn’t get enough, and neither can any team that is clicking on all cylinders. This is a productive form of desire that will help you accomplish things that you could have never imagined without the people around you being there with you each step of the way.
5. Boldness – You cannot hold back on pushing your teammates in an honest and constructive manner, which challenges them to not only be the best they can be, but to deliver their production responsibility for the sake of the team. MJ is legendary on this topic, sometimes going as far as hitting teammates in the face, (which I don’t recommend).
6. Confidence – After they believe in you, your team will follow you anywhere! MJ’s team not only trusted that he would take them to victory, but they were confident enough to be ready to deliver in their specific role or function, when called upon to do so – just look at John Paxon’s big shots in the 1991 and 1993 championships. Could he have hit those without MJ becoming the leader he became? Would the Bulls even have been in that position without MJ’s leadership growth. I think not.
7. Dedication – Leaders like this, will do whatever it takes to keep getting better because they want more. The best leaders are the best versions of themselves every day. They are continuously better the day you see them, than they were the day before.
Jordan only became better with time, and ultimately MJ ended his career with a six NBA Titles in six tries. Kobe couldn’t do it. LeBron can’t do it (he’s already lost three NBA Finals), and I’m not sure anyone ever will repeat a feat of perfection like this again in all of sport.
Phil Jackson is quite the common denominator when it comes to leading teams. He went on to lead Kobe and the LA Lakers to five more NBA Titles, to add to his six titles as the head coach of Chicago and two titles as a player with the NY Knicks.
However, he couldn’t do it, and neither could MJ or Kobe, without the team. That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends. You can’t do big things without a great one.
And your team can’t be great, without you stepping up and being a great leader.
What are you waiting for?