Six Leadership Fundamentals from Michael Jordan

leadership lessons from Michael Jordan

Learn from the basketball star to build your leadership skills.

I’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, arguably the best player ever to grace the game of basketball, gives me feelings of nostalgia. I watch him dominate the ’80s and ’90s. Jordan’s tenacity and leadership still strike me 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 must make adjustments and learn to overcome a setback. It’s essential 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 win 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 a teamwork mindset also applies to business: To be successful, you must work together intelligently as a team to achieve your goal. A talented individual can only do so much. It’s the team that gets it done. 

3. Believe in yourself

Michael Jordan had a belief in his abilities and unshakable confidence in accomplishing his goals. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s challenging to lead others. Leadership requires 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 Strengths Finder and Myers-Briggs personality tests. These tools encourage self-awareness and 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, which 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 looks to you as an example. That requires working, leading by example, and owning the final decisions. That’s the price of leadership: complete 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 an instructive lesson for the future. Following any effort, I conducted a postmortem to understand what went well and what didn’t to improve in the next iteration. Those learned mistakes allow for gradual process improvements.

Leadership isn’t just a role, it’s a responsibility that is demonstrated not only in words but by doing.

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