Leadership in the The Last Dance

“Phil, [Jackson]  you let this dude [Dennis Rodman] go on vacation, we not gonna see him. You let him go to Vegas! we definitely not gonna see him. 

Michael Jordon – Chicago Bulls

“When you see your leader working extremely hard in practice, you feel like, “Man, if I don’t give it my all, I shouldn’t be here.” 

Horace Grant – Chicago Bulls

Like coke addicts on spring break in Colombia, Lockdown 2020 has provided many challenges to prolific procrastinators like me. Few things have the power to cause a spiral into a time wasting vortex like the warm glow of the devil box. I have succumbed to its enticing embrace more often than I would like to admit, and few programs during this time have gripped me like the docuseries The Last Dance.  I entered this dance to watch the greatest team to ever play the game of basketball. The leader of that team is not only the greatest basketball player of all time but is a cultural icon. What I wasn’t expecting was a personal flashback to the 90’s. It was the 1990’s when I managed to squeeze a full four years of University into seven, I crisscrossed the country in my Jeep with my sidekick Tess chasing whitewater, and found my fashion sense, Carhartt and flannel. It’s finally coming back around.

Along with the trip down memory lane, I didn’t expect The Last Dance to be a masterclass in the contrasting leadership styles of Michael Jordan, the GOAT, and Phil Jackson, arguably the greatest coach of a generation.

Michael Jordan knew what he was about, what his goal was, and he was willing to sacrifice just about anything in order to achieve that goal; become the best, and win the most.  You wouldn’t out work him, and Jordan expected from his teammates what he expected out of himself, everything.  He also treated everyone the same, rode them hard and pushed them with crippling intensity.  If you survive a practice on a given Wednesday then you will survive the toughest of opponents on the biggest stage. Some rose to the challenge, while for others his style pushed them away. Those that thrived under his leadership dominated the game like no other team.

Phil Jackson wasn’t the greatest basketball talent during his basketball career, however as a coach he was able to draw the best out of his players including harnessing the biggest egos on the planet. Phil also knew what he was about, and knew his role, to win championships. The role of an NBA coach isn’t the personal development of young men, that role is much more for high school and college coaches. Phil didn’t coach all of his players the same, to get the best out of his team, some he encouraged,  others he challenged, and at a critical part of one particular season, one player just needed 72 hours in Vegas….  

Two very different leaders achieving greatness in two very different ways. Two leadership styles you would think should clash, harmonised to create a dynasty that may never be matched.

What kind of leader are you?  What kind of leadership do you respond to? Do you know your role?

Even the greatest players need a great coach. Who is coaching you?