Anxious. Stressed. Tensed. Overwhelmed. These are few words we have been hearing and feeling across the board in these COVID times. A lot has been said and written about these unprecedented times that we are in and how we need to move past multiple barriers and continue to thrive. But the one thing as leaders we need the most in these times, is for all of us to show up as great leaders by demonstrating who we are and what we stand for.
It is a lot about BEING followed by DOING.
The BIG question here is - How do you BE a great leader in times like these when you must look after your business and people. And if there is one person I believe has aced BEING a great leader in tough times, that person is Michael Jordan. I recently watched “The Last Dance” – a docuseries that gives a definitive account of Michael Jordan’s career and the 1990s Chicago Bulls, produced by Netflix and ESPN, and all I could think post watching it was how as a leader, just being aware of yourself, aware of your team strengths and weaknesses can help you win championships under tough conditions.
The series would fill one with awe of the player that Michael Jordan was, but for me additionally, there were few key lessons that can enable leaders to better respond to the crisis:
Lesson 1: Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno
The above sentence translates to One for all, all for one. The whole of us relies on each of us, and each of us can rely on the whole of us” - it is imperative for leaders to share their vulnerabilities with their team so that the team can then come forward and help the leaders. In today’s times, when all of us are working remotely, craving connections and networking, this motto if imbibed in the team can help achieve synergies.
Something magical happens when all members of the team play/work for that one higher purpose.
Lesson 2: Even if you are a star player, you do not have to have the ball in your hand all the time
Doug Collins coached the team for three years during which his strategy revolved around putting the ball in the hands of Michael Jordan so that he can score a basket, but when Phil Jackson came to coach the Chicago Bulls, he made sure that all players get the opportunity to play and not just Michael. This led to the rise of players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, and John Paxson to name a few. Therefore, it is important for a great leader to ensure that equal opportunities are given to the entire team, unbiased decisions are taken, transparency and openness in decision making is practiced and most importantly, people on the team feel heard. It creates an inclusive space for the team to operate in, which leads to better relationships, efficiency, and performance.
Lesson 3: No matter how successful you become, always share your learnings with others
Kobe Bryant was arguably the biggest competitor for Michael Jordan, despite that, MJ extended his help to coach him on how to further improve his basketball game and Kobe attributed a lot of his famous techniques to what he learnt from Michael. As a leader who influences and inspires many people, one should always aim to extend their hand of support to their team and others to help enable their potential.
Lesson 4: As a player, you are always ready
As a leader too, you should always be ready for anything and everything. In one of the NBA championship finals, Michael Jordan had a severe bout of food poisoning and could not muster the energy to play, but he knew his team needed him at this crucial stage of the championship. What did he do? He went out on the court and played to his best capability. What was the result? They ended up winning the match and the championship.
Testing times will always be there, as change is the only constant and ambiguity is normal - A leader needs to always be ready and bring forth their best for the team.
Lesson 5: Leadership has a price
Great Leaders are not always nice – they cannot be nice as they need to be the ones pushing the team to achieve their full potential. Michael Jordan in the docuseries admits that he was not perceived as a nice person as he was there to win every game he played and wanted the other team players also to feel the same way. For them to win games, he had to pull people along when they did not want to be pulled, enable them to operate out of their comfort zone and challenge them when they did not want to be challenged. Therefore, as leaders, you may need to push the team to achieve their best and operate out of their comfort zone to respond to the market volatility. That might make you look not nice, but it will help you and the team achieve the overarching goal.
Lesson 6: Always Always Lead by Example
What brought conviction to Michael’s leadership was he never asked the team to do something that he did not do himself, whether it is exercise, technique, or hard work - he did it all and led by example.
If people see their leader exemplify the core values and culture that they want to build - It inspires people to go that extra mile, drives them to thrive and make an impact in the world.
In the end, I would want to applaud the efforts all the leaders have put in to restore their business operations while keeping their people safe. Also, I would just want to say “We are all in it together, lean on us, we will get through this!
“Some people WANT it to happen, some WISH it would happen, others MAKE it happen” - Great Leaders make magic happen!