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Six Leadership Fundamentals From Michael Jordan

Learn from the basketball star to build your leadership skills


We’ve been watching ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” a documentary series that chronicles the Chicago Bulls’ last championship run. The 10-part series is a retrospective from 1984 (when Michael Jordan entered the NBA) to 1998, and features Jordan and the supporting cast of players that helped Chicago achieve six championships.

Watching Jordan, who is arguably the best player to ever grace the game of basketball, gives me feelings of nostalgia as I watched him dominate the ’80s and ’90s. I’m still struck by Jordan’s tenacity and leadership on the court.

Jordan’s leadership on the court can be translated and used effectively in the workplace. Here are six lessons from Jordan that are emblematic of what leaders need to do to win:

1. Adjust to adversity.

Jordan as a competitor was known for his tireless work ethic and willingness to make adjustments to triumph over opponents. As a leader, you have to make adjustments and learn how to overcome a setback. It’s important to understand the challenge, dissect it, and figure out what tools and methods are needed to overcome the roadblock. Most obstacles can be conquered and the lessons learned are instructive for future efforts.

2. Work together.

As Jordan says, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

Early in Jordan’s career, he tried to do everything by himself, and while he would accomplish great personal results, it did not materialize into the elusive championship. The individual contributor versus teamwork mindset also applies to business: to be successful, you have to work together as a team–intelligently–to achieve your goal. A talented individual can only do but so much. It’s the team that gets it done. 

3. Believe in yourself.

Michael Jordan had a belief in his abilities and unshakeable confidence in accomplishing his goals. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s very difficult to lead others. Leadership requires an enduring confidence and understanding of who you are. This means being introspective and knowing your strengths as well as your weaknesses. For instance, my team uses tools like Strength Finders and Myers-Briggs personality tests. These tools not only encourage self awareness but allow leaders to understand the team on a deeper level.

4. Do your best.

Watching Michael Jordan play, you’d see him give it his all, no matter the circumstance. His commitment to trying to win was unquestionable. Great leaders must have drive and be willing to endure losses in pursuit of wins.

As a leader, I’ve had my share of successes and losses. Leadership calls for doing your best, inspiring your team, and accepting that failure is part of the process. High performing teams need psychological safety and that cannot be achieved if your team fears failure and doesn’t take risks. In Jordan’s words: “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.”

5. Embrace an ownership mentality.

There is a level of ownership and accountability required with leadership. When you’re the boss, your team is looking to you as the example. That requires putting in the work, leading by example, and owning the final decisions. That’s the price of leadership: full ownership of the process and the outcomes.

6. Learn from your mistakes.

“Learning is a gift, even when pain is your teacher,” Jordan says.

Some things don’t go as you hoped, but there is always a lesson that is instructive for the future. Following any effort, I make a point of conducting a post-mortem to understand what went well and what didn’t to improve in the next iteration. Those learned mistakes allow for gradual process improvements.

At the end of the day, leadership isn’t just a role, it’s a responsibility that is demonstrated not only in words but by doing.

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