The Physical Movement, Leadership: 10 Lessons from The Last Dance.

There are many lessons that come from observation the success of a team, person or a company. This series provided insight into leadership principles that can apply to just about any aspect of life.

Imagine in life if we had a finish line.  I think we do better with a finish line. A deadline.

Think about preparing for that vacation, or that business trip.

Is there a time when you get more done than leading up to that trip?

What about training for an event?

Any event. A marathon?

A presentation ?

Anything. 

We do better with a tangible finish line.   The 1997-98 basketball season had a finish line for the Chicago Bulls, it was the last season for their star players and coach to be together.  This was declared at the beginning of the year and the season was tagged “The Last Dance”. The participants made the most of working with a deadline.

When I sat down to watch the series, I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) to my 19 year old son.  His generation and a few others have never had the opportunity to really understand where Jordan’s place in history is, not only as a player but as an influencer.   How could someone of Jamie’s age know how good Jordan was? That is the same question for many other greats prior to his or our time. We only have the footage, the highlights.  Unlike the footage prior to my time (1965), the footage prior to his time is crystal clear. During the clips of the Last Dance, he saw the athleticism, quickness, agility and power. I know he saw.  He told me how incredible it was to see.

What I realized early into episode 1 was that I was the one that was going to learn as much about the GOAT and the supporting pieces that made his time in pro basketball so great.

It started with the great coach Phil Jackson tagging the last season, the season of the documentary as the Last Dance.  He realized that this would be the last season for this group together, one of the greatest teams of all time, who had won 5 championships in 7 years to that point.  In the year of the documentary they win the 6th in 8 years with MJ.

That triggered my little hamster to thinking about the first lesson from the Last Dance, the productivity that comes with a deadline or goal.

Here are 10 lessons taken from the Last Dance.

1.      A coach is one who gets the best out of his players.  Whether this is little league or a business, or a teacher with a classroom of students, a good leader gets the most out of those he leads.  Phil Jackson was strong on the strategy of basketball as was documented with his implementation of the triangle offense, but also how he handled the different personalities on the team.  This signified a changing of the guard of how coaches handled players.  Prior to this time, organizations and coaches treated most players the same, regardless of talent, experience and personality.  Historically, all players needed to conform to the team rules and regulations. Jackson got the best out of his players over the years by understanding their strengths and treating them as people.  He was also seemingly very good at rallying them to the common cause. Hence, the significance of the players rallying around The Last Dance, the last season together.

2.       Disagreements at the workplace are inevitable and how they are handled possibly a sign of the health of the organization. The narrative early in the series is that the general manager was in conflict with the coach and players. The 1997-98 season being the last for this group originated from the general manager declaring at the beginning of the year. Conflict.  It became a rallying point for the players and coach.  Being in conflict explains a lot of family dynamics and business dynamics. Harmony does not occur in many situations in life, and this organization succeeded despite a lack of it.

3.      Success can often from experiencing failure and disappointment. You see this with a lot of sports teams. The adage is that the good teams need to learn how to win before they can. The teams that succeed for years have a history of succumbing to defeat. This group went through that pattern by losing some tough battles prior to winning their first championship in 1991.  Of course, losing is not always a precursor to success. Sometimes losing occurs because your not as good as the other team. In this case, losing highlighted where the Bulls were deficient, where they needed to improve and they did.  Much like success in anything.  Experience can be a cruel teacher.

4. Constantly strive to do better. Persistence. Resilience. Part of the attraction to sport, at least for this writer, is that almost every single participant at the highest level has had to overcome something to get to that point.  Their work ethic has to at least match their skill level.  Usually they have enough road blocks to dissuade most from continuing. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, all key members of the these winning teams had massive obstacles.  Jordan, with his high school struggles in making the varsity, the death of his father and Steve Kerr’s father’s tragic passing were especially compelling stories.

https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a32561473/steve-kerr-father-malcolm-kerr-death-true-story/

5. Competition makes us better.  The ultimate in accountability. In competition, you either make the grade or you don’t.  Competition in business makes us better. It does in sports as well.  Think about it, every great player and team were pushed to be better by the competition they faced.

Where many seem to struggle, both in business and sports is understanding that competition can bring out the best in you.   That often means we will lose. And how we handle losing, or dealing with disappointment can be a defining moment in anyone’s life.

This is not only a lesson for business, but young athletes, coaches and parents of young athletes.   What does dealing with disappointment teach?   Great lesson here, and some would argue one that has been forgotten in modern times.

Dig in and work harder or give up?

6.      Group success comes from individual adaptation. Triangle offence.  Phil Jackson brought a different philosophy to the team when he was hired in 1989.   Part of that philosophy was a ball sharing one on offence.  Initially Jordan was not amused, as he had an offensive strategy prior that was catered to him.  But that triangle offence is what led the Bulls to get over the top and keep the opponents guessing. If they double teamed Jordan, they now had a strategy to get others to step up.

7.      In a team setting, 1 individual can not win on their own. Jordan had a terrific supporting cast. He has the right coach. He had a hall of fame #2 player in Scottie Pippen, and when the others were given the chance, they produced.   This applies to business and personal success. Team and support and critical pillars in successful journeys.

8.      Commitment to the common goal.   In the late 80’s and early 90’s athletes started to make big money. Many struggled to find success on the field and court with so much financial security. Like in business, having a strong WHY can get us over the top. A common goal, rallying point, and strong WHY can overcome many advantage or hardships.  The Last Dance was a great example of this concept.

9.   All consuming passion for the activity of focus. Jordan has been asked numerous times WHAT was most important in pursuing greatness.  His documented response was a love for the sport. A love for basketball. If you asked other greats like Gretzky in hockey,  Nicklaus in golf and Nolan Ryan in baseball, they would say a love for the sport drove them to put in the hours to get better. The commitment came from a love of the sport. Same holds true to business or any skill. Without a passion for the activity in question, it is difficult to get to the next step.

10.   Someone is always looking to knock you off your perch once you get to a certain position.  Not sure why that is but it occurs a lot. Once you get to a certain point, some want to knock you down.  This was especially evident in episode 6 after the 3rd championship, where Jordan was simply mentally beaten down by the constant harassing and investigation into his lifestyle.  He had worked so hard to be the best, but what came with it was more than he could or should have to handle.

There are so many benefits in watching and observing a rise of a company, individual or team. The Last Dance is no exception.  While many aspects of the series could have gone in different directions, like exploring the impact of Jordan not using his platform to support worthy social causes, overall it gave a big insight into some leadership principles that can apply to just about any aspect of life.