What Managers Can Learn From Michael Jordan’s Leadership Style

Anyone who follows basketball knows who Michael Jordon was. He was one of the truly great players. Season after season he lead his team to success. It turns out that one of the reasons that his team was so successful was not just because of Michael’s incredible basketball talent, but also because of his leadership style. Is there something that managers can learn from Michael’s manager skills?

What Made Michael Jordan So Good?

There is a great deal known about how Michael Jorden interacted with his team. There are many people who ask was Michael Jordan a brilliant leader, or a merciless tyrant? There is no question that Michael pushed his organization to unprecedented success. The question that managers have to ask is was that because of or despite the fact that he scared the heck out of people?

One thing that managers need to understand about Michael Jorden is that his standards were punishingly high and how he ridiculed anyone who failed to meet them. Once upon a time Michael said “Winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So, I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled.” Traditionally this is something that is not covered in manager training. What managers need to understand about Jordan is that love him or hate him, nobody on that team sacrificed more than he did.

Where things get really interesting is when you take a look at the entire Bulls team. The Bulls named center Bill Cartwright to be a co-captain along with Michael Jordan, who had held the job by himself. As a captain, Cartwright’s job was to rebuild something Jordan had constantly undermined: the team’s connection and camaraderie. A few years later, in a book, Jordan all but acknowledged this. “Bill made the difference,” he wrote.

How Should Managers View Michael Jorden?

On the elite team the real leaders are rarely superstars. They are the ones who work quietly, in and out of public view, doing the messy, thankless, unglamorous jobs that bind teams together. On the Bulls, Michael Jordan may have been the biggest personality and most valuable player on the Bulls. But he wasn’t the most valuable leader – he never did any team building. The reason Jordan was so good at being monstrous is that he was a monster. To managers his toxic acts didn’t seem the selfless, calculated work of a leader.

However, when Jordan was celebrating his first NBA championship, he hugged the trophy while sobbing like a baby. Until then, nobody was entirely sure Jordan was human. The only emotions he’d ever displayed were “frustration and anger.” The question that managers have to ask themselves is was Jordan really a tyrant at heart, or just a normal human being with ordinary feelings? Perhaps he was just incredibly, even heroically good at stifling them.

Being Michael Jordan was clearly an exhausting job. He had to be “on” at all times in public while playing basketball better than anybody, ever. What seems obvious now is that for him, being the sole leader of the Chicago Bulls was an impossible ask. Nobody has that much bandwidth. Jordan must have thought success was the only contribution he could make. He wanted to light a fire and shove his teammates into it. So, he played the bad cop, the merciless agitator. He buried every emotion that wasn’t aggressive or propulsive. It’s hard to imagine how lonely that must have been. The rest of the Bulls could lean on Bill Cartwright for emotional support, but Jordan was on his own.

What All Of This Means For You

There is no question that Michael Jordan was a great basketball player. However, in order for the Bulls team to be as successful as they were, the entire team needed to perform at their peak level. What managers want to know is what role did Michael Jordan play in getting his team to this level?

Michael did lead his team to success. However, the big question is if he was able to do this because they feared him? Michael set his standards very high and he held everyone to them. It turns out that Michael was not the only leader of the Bulls, Bill Cartwright was appointed co-captain. He was critical to the team’s success. Michael Jordan was critical to the Bull’s success; however, their success was not all due to him. Michael Jordan was playing a role that required him to keep all of his emotions in check. They were only allowed to show up at times of great victory. Michael Jordan motivated his team by pushing them all beyond their comfort zone.

Although Michael Jordan was placed on a pedestal for his incredible basketball accomplishments, it turns out that he played a key role in motivating the Bulls to multiple victories. What managers need to understand is that Michael accomplished this by having very high standards and holding everyone to them – something that did not win him any friends. The Bulls were able to be successful not because they had Michael Jordan, but rather because Michael had Bill Cartwight. The lesson that managers need to take away from this is that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves. Greatness can be a team effort.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Michael Jordan could have been more successful if he had been more supportive of his teammates?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As managers we always want to find ways to use our manager skills to get more things done. Our to-do lists just seem to keep getting longer and people are always asking us to accomplish more things in less time. Our bosses are willing to send us to manager training where we’ll learn how to look like we are working hard even if we may not be producing as much as we should be. Managers need to be careful and stop confusing productivity with getting results. Perhaps what we really should be doing is looking at how we can use “slowness” to do a better job of accomplishing what we need to get done.

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