Leadership Lessons from Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance”

Recently ESPN released a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls entitled “The Last Dance.” John Maxwell watched this series and gleaned several important leadership lessons that he shares with you here on the podcast.

Mark Cole and Chris Goede join in for the application portion of the episode to talk about championing the people around you to accomplish great things together. Chris Goede shares what he’s learned about leadership from his years of playing football in both the college and professional arenas.  

Our BONUS resource for this episode is the Last Dance Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.

READ THE TRANSCRIPT

Mark Cole:           Hey, welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast! I am so glad you're with us today. Now, today we wanted to take a recent talk that John Maxwell did on The Last Dance. If you don't know, there was a whole ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and how he became one of the greatest of all times, if not the greatest. Today in studio I am extremely excited because I have a competitor myself. In fact, I think his wife told me, he's the GOAT. He's the goat of all time, Chris Goede, you all know him. But Chris has played sports, specifically, football at every level of the game. He has competed, he knows what it's like to be on a sports team, and I can tell you right now he knows what it's like to be on a competitive leadership team. I'm excited for you to hear he and I break down John’s lesson. We're getting ready to go to John Maxwell, but I want to tell you this, if you want to get the notes, you can go to Maxwellpodcast.com/lastdance, and you'll get the read the worksheet by clicking on the “Bonus Resource” button. So here is John and stay tuned because then Chris and I are going to have a great time debriefing!

John Maxwell:      Hi, John Maxwell here, I'm so excited again to come to you, and just hopefully give you lessons and teachings that are practical that are helping you, not only with the crisis that we're in, but just help you as a person to learn better and live better and love people better. And what I want to do today is a little bit of a parting from what I've done. I like, probably, many of you got caught up in ESPN’s The Last Dance, you know, the documentary of Michael Jordan. And you know, in fact, when I watched it, I not only enjoyed it immensely and learn from it, but I said to myself, because there's very little sports on TV, “This is going to be a record audience.” And sure enough, it was a record audience, more people watched that, I think, documentary than any other that ESPN has ever had. And if you watched it, I think you'll get a little bit more out of the lesson, but I'll try to keep it in context so that if you didn't watch it, we still have some incredible lessons that we can learn from the Chicago Bulls, from Michael Jordan, and this whole Last Dance documentary. So, let's get going because I'm just very excited about the lessons we're going to learn.

Before I teach any of the lessons, I just want to, again, remind you that experience is not the best teacher. Never has been, never will be. So, when people say, “Experience is the best teacher.” They're wrong. If experience was the best teacher then everybody as they get older because they have more experience would get better, and I know a whole bunch of people, they're getting older but they're not getting better. Have they had experiences? Of course they have, but they didn't evaluate and learn from those experiences. You see, it's evaluated experience that’s the best teacher. When I look at something that I have witnessed, experienced, been a part of, and I pull back and I evaluate it, there are lessons to be learned and so, as my children were growing older and getting going, and as my grandchildren also, whenever we'd have an experience I'd look at them and I would ask them, “What did you learn? What did you love?” And I wanted to find out what I wanted to teach them, and every experience has something to teach you. So, while I'm immersed in The Last Dance documentary of Michael Jordan, I'm also taking notes because I want to learn something. I want to pull a lesson out of it and so I had more lessons that I’m going to give you but I brought this down because of time and condensed it and I'm going to give you, I don't know, maybe five or six, and so let's get going. And as I give you the lessons, if you watch The Last Dance, you're going to say, “Oh, yeah, that was there, that was there.”

Number one, and I think number one is truly number one, because I think it's maybe the most important lesson. So, I kind of want to start off on that, because I think it's a lesson that many people miss, and here's the lesson: Michael’s success was greater than his talent. I mean, it's fairly clear right now at least, that he was the greatest of all time NBA basketball player. And so, the tendency for us is to look at his talent and say, “Well, he just had talent like no other person ever played the NBA.” And I would disagree with that. I think that there are few, not many, but I don't know, what? Twenty maybe, thirty players in the NBA over the history that were as talented as Michael Jordan was, and so although he was at the top in the talent pool, I think his success went beyond his talent. Several years ago, I wrote a book and I really enjoyed writing the book because I thought it was helpful to a lot of people and the book was Talent is Never Enough. And basically, I said, no matter how talented you are, you have to make right choices. In fact, they renamed the book and they called it Beyond Talent now, so if you want to get it, it’s Beyond Talent with a subtitle, Be Someone Who Gets Extraordinary Results. And the thesis of the book was that it's great talent plus great choices that puts you at that peak of the success ladder. Now, I got the idea Talent is Never Enough or the new title, Beyond Talent for the book from Coach Tressel when he was at Ohio State. I grew up in Ohio and I've always been an Ohio State fan and so, he was getting my books and using them for teaching for his players and they took my book Today Matters and then he sent me what he called the “Winners Manual”, which was a manual for all of the Ohio State players that helped them get a winning attitude and I looked through it and I loved it, but he had a section in the Winner's Manual that was entitled “Things That Do Not Require Talent”. And he talked about attitude, he talked about punctuality, he talked about responsibility, he talked about work ethic. And loved that part of the Winner's Manual, from that I got the idea of writing the book Talent Is Never Enough, or now the title, Beyond Talent, and when it came out, you know, he used that for his players. We've talked a lot, he's a terrific person and a great coach, great leader, a great president now. But we just talked about how the talent was never enough, and the thesis was “Talent Plus Right Choices Equals What I Call a Talent Plus Person”. So, when I was working on The Last Dance lesson, because I knew I had written about this, and I'm saying to you, the first lesson I learned in the documentary was that Michael Jordan's success was beyond what his talent was, that there were maybe twenty, twenty-five other players in the NBA that in their time, in their day, wherever bid is talented is Michael. But then I began thinking of the choices that we make that make us a talent plus person. So, I went into the book, and I'm very going to quickly, because there were thirteen chapters in this book, and I'm just going to give you the outline of the chapters and then I want to draw a line, underline Michael here and tell you why he set himself apart from the other NBA players. You know, so the chapters were like this: Belief Lifts Your Talent, Passion Energizes Your Talent, Initiative Activates Your Talent, Focus Directs Your Talent, Preparation Positions Your Talent, Practice Sharpens Your Talent, Perseverance Sustains Your Talent, Courage Tests Your Talent, Teachability Expands Your Talent, Character Protects Your Talent, Relationships Influence Your Talent, Responsibility Strengthens Your Talent, and Teamwork Multiplies Your Talent. Now, the lesson I learned in The Last Dance, number one, is that it was more than Michael Jordan's talent that put him to be the greatest of all time. So, I went through these chapter titles, and I just put in a yellow marker the ones that I thought were Michael Jordan-esque. And so, what did I put in that yellow marker? Passion, initiative, focus, preparation, practice, perseverance, courage, responsibility, teamwork. You see, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…eight of the thirteen qualities that separate talent were very visible qualities and choices that the documentary on The Last Dance showed about Michael Jordan. It's what made him a talent plus person. You see, being the best was not good enough for Michael. You know, I've been into this conversation with people before on the difference between best and better, and best is all about now, I give you 100%, right now I'm giving you 100%, everything I can in this teaching. It's my best effort, but tomorrow, I have to improve it. Best can always be improved. Best is only best for the moment. And so, my best today, my ceiling tomorrow becomes my floor or my ceiling right now, my best right now to you becomes the floor that I build on tomorrow. So, best always can be improved, and when you watch the documentary with Michael the thing that just absolutely came home very clearly is that Michael didn't rest on the best. And one championship he didn't rest on us, say, “Okay, we got a championship.” The reason that many times championship teams don't repeat is because they go on the chicken circuit and they go get their trophies, and they talk about how good they were, and they don't keep practicing. They don't keep working, and so they don't improve their best to better. In the documentary, remember when the Pistons knocked the Bulls out of the possibility of winning an NBA championship? What would happen in that offseason? Michael put on fifteen pounds of muscle. Why? Because he realized he didn't have the strength he needed to be the NBA player that he wanted to be. You see, the application, this is very simple, leaders need to stay out front. Michael always visually stayed out in front of his teammates, and the other NBA players. And by the way, the reason that leaders need to stay out in front is because they call it leading. Leading means you're out in front and continue improvement in Michael’s case, in your case, in my case, continual improvement results into continue leading. You know, when does a leader quit leading? When that leader stops improving and getting better, and people began to pass him. Michael made sure that nobody was going to practice harder than he was, commit more than he did. He just made sure that he was always going to be the leader. He was the alpha male. Bill Bradley, who was a great basketball player himself played for Princeton. I think he took them to the NCAA Final Four and was a great pro player, then became the Senator. Bill Bradley, when he was a young player, his coach looked at him and said, “Bill, you're incredibly gifted, talented, you're going to be a great player.” But he said, “I want you to know something, Bill, there are other people as talented as you, and right now, Bill, they're practicing. And if you're not practicing, when you meet, they'll win.” And I've always thought about that illustration. I thought it's so true, no matter how good you are, it's those choices, that commitment to winning and practicing that takes your talent and makes you a talent plus person. That's lesson number one, in The Last Dance.

Lesson number two: The margin between winning and losing is small. In fact, it's very small, but it's very significant. Again, I don't think there was a lot of difference between Michael's talent and the others, or even maybe his commitment to win the others, but it was enough of a difference to let him win. Sometimes I do a teaching that basically says this, that if you knew how close you were to succeeding, you would be greatly encouraged. Because I think a lot of people think that successful people are just miles away above than what they are. They have this huge gap and they, kind of, are frustrated, say, you know, “Wow, I'm never going to get there.” And that isn't true. What I want you to do, and I think the documentary really was clear with it, is that the edge he had, first of all, he's very passionate at winning, he was highly competitive, he was passionate at winning, but the edge that he had, although it was a small edge, he was consistent to keep that edge. He never lost it. One of the teachings I do is I teach that all numbers are not equal. And I'll give the illustration of an ice cube melting, if you want to have an ice cube melt, you know, if it's 29 degrees out nothing happens, 30 degrees, nothing happens, 31 degrees, nothing happens, 32 degrees nothing happens, 33 degrees…bingo! Something happens. You had to get to 33 degrees. You see, all numbers are not created equal. I talked to people all the time and say, “If you want to be successful get to the top, get in the top 10%. If you're in the top 10% of whatever you're doing, guess what? People will want your services, people will come to your restaurant. The top 10% will make you successful. But if you want to be super successful get in that 1%.” And again, there's only nine points difference but that one 1% sets you apart, and Michael understood that. It's kind of like the extra mile, if you go the extra mile there's just less traffic and he constantly was going the extra mile, he was practicing when the other players weren't practicing, he was working on his game when everybody else was kind of resting a little bit, and what I loved about him was that, you know, there's the statement that is very true that, “The greatest hindrance to tomorrow's success is today's success.” That's a true statement. But Michael never let that happen. He never let his success now allow him to settle, and he pushed people. I mean, you watch, he pushed people, oh my! His teammates, I mean, many of his teammates didn't like him, because he just pushed them, because he knew that the only way he could ever get the most out of them was, it was not “Let it become natural to me.” He had to push them, and Michael learned what all leaders learn, and that is, they want respect more than they want approval; and they want to lead more than they want to be liked. And Michael constantly pressed his people, pushed his people. I was having a conversation with Coach Matthew Mitchell, the coach at the University of Kentucky, the ladies college basketball team, and he's a wonderful friend and he's a terrific coach, he's a great leader, and we were having a conversation one day, kind of, a mentoring conversation, he said, “John, when do I push my players and when am I patient with my players?” And I shared with Coach Mitchell that day that you push your players in areas of choice scenarios of values and areas of their strengths, you push them, you push them, because in choices and strengths and values there's always room for improvement. I said, you're patient with them and if they lacked maturity, perhaps, or if they're inexperienced and they haven't had, maybe, they lacked skill then you're patient with them. But Michael in The Last Dance, he just really showed that there may not be a lot of difference between number one and number two, but he consistently kept that difference and he never lost that edge. He didn't after two or three years say, “Wow, you know, I'm tired of keeping my standards where they are and my levels of excellence where it is.”

Number three, wow…the third lesson in The Last Dance is: Mental toughness is the core of a champion. You know, as physically gifted as Michael Jordan’s body was and coordinated, the secret weapon of Michael Jordan was his mind, his mental toughness. Nobody, and nothing would deter him from winning, and he was just mentally tougher than others and when I have looked at the great athletes, what separates them a lot of times is that little gap I just talked about a moment ago, is that mental toughness. Several years ago, I mean, a long time ago, in fact, when I was working on this lesson, I had to call Linda Eggers, my assistant and say, “You got to dig out an old lesson I taught probably fifteen, twenty years ago.” And she found it, she got it out of the mothballs but several years ago, I did a lesson that was very popular called, “Winning is an Inside Job”, and the whole lesson was the fact that when you win on the basketball court, it just shows up all the work that you've done on the inside first. John Wooden one time in our mentoring session, I asked him what he missed the most about coaching, and his answers just shocked me. He said, “Well, it certainly wasn't the games.” I said, “You're kidding! The games is where you won or lost. Very few losses for you.” But he said, “No, I missed the practices.” He said, “If we practice well, when we played the game, it was already given that we would win.” He said, “I knew that the victory wasn't on game day, it was the preparation and the practice, the things that we did behind the scenes that showed up in the Saturday game.” And I thought to myself, he understood that winning is an inside job, and in this little teaching I do, I talk about how do you have this inside winning quality in your life? And I said things like be responsible for yourself. Make changes before you have to. Don't make excuses, get control of your life work—I love this phrase, work in the “can’t see” hours. When nobody else is watching, you're working. This is what makes you a champion. Believe in yourself, your mission and others, you know, and what I've known as champions, they're bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. And when the Bulls were eliminated to the playoffs again, you saw in The Last Dance when Michael came back from his, you know, misguided baseball career, and they came back and they didn't win the championship that year, the very next day where was he? He was in the gym with his personal trainer, and he was already practicing so next year he could return as a champion. He never wallowed in his losses, he never, you know, felt sorry for himself. I mean, he just had this inner mental toughness which is the core of a champion.

Number four…the fourth lesson in The Last Dance is: Losing greatness is usually an inside job. Wow. I'm going to repeat that because you don't hear this lesson often, losing greatness, when you go from a champion to no longer a champion, it's usually not because somebody on the outside took that championship away from you. It's because you took it away from yourself. Losing almost always, for a champion, is an inside job. People ask me all the time, they'll say, “John, what is your greatest leadership challenge?” I just very quickly say, “Well, you know, leading me is my greatest leadership challenge.” It's easy to lead you to tell you what to do, to point in the direction and say, “Get going.” It's much more difficult to lead me, and this is what I'm talking about right now because, you know, in fact, I say if I could kick the person most responsible for my problems, I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week, okay? Yeah, that's humorous, but there's also a truth in it, that my biggest challenges isn’t leading others, it’s leading me. And championship teams, their biggest challenge usually isn't the competition in the league it’s staying hungry, and not allowing ego to get in the middle of the mix. In fact, you know, when you looked at The Last Dance, Scottie Pippen, you know, when he didn't enter the game, because he wasn't going to be the player to make the game winning shot. That was selfishness. That's losing on the inside. How about when, you know, he felt underappreciated, underpaid? Let me tell you something, after a while that stuff gets to you. Michael, I mean, when he had a burnout, you know, he went to baseball. If he wouldn't have gone to baseball, if he wouldn't have been burnt out, trust me, they could have seven championships, maybe, they could have had eight. I mean, just think about it. They didn’t lose because of the competition, they lost because he got burnt out, tired and he wanted to do baseball. I never understood him doing baseball because I always tell people to stay in their strengths, and Michael was the greatest basketball player ever. He certainly wasn't going to be the greatest baseball player ever. I never really understood it. But the documentary really helped me when his father passed away, and his father wanted to play baseball. All of a sudden, I began to see how the inner child of Michael's past moved him and nudged him over to play baseball. I kind of understood it. You know, still to be honest with you, a stupid move but the point being, the point is a valid point, that I think that the burnout and the loss of his father and his father wanted him to play baseball, I think it just kind of drove him over there. But let me just say that again, it wasn't the competition of the Chicago Bulls that caused him to lose the championship, if Scottie, you know, “I'm underappreciated, underpaid, you know, wow. I didn't get to do the game winning shot.” It's Michael who said, “I'm burnt out. I want to play baseball.” It's Jerry Krause, the general manager, hello? Ego! Oh my gosh. You know, instead of applauding the team when they won their championship, what did he do? He said, “Well, it's the organization. It's really not the players.” I mean, you talk about an ego centric individual who, “I want to make sure I get credit here. I want to get credit.” Well, you know, he never made a basket for the Chicago Bulls. Now, was he a good general manager? I think he probably was, but I know this, you could be a good general manager, but if your ego gets out of place, you can become a bad general manager. And it was the inside stuff, the lesson’s very simple, the inside stuff, that basically they lost their greatness not because of competition on the outside, but because of what they allowed it to become on the inside.

The fifth lesson is a great lesson and I'm just going to briefly do it and that is: Be the example so you can say, “Follow me.” I'm telling you, Michael Jordan being the example for his players, I mean, he never asked them to do something he didn't do, his standard for himself was always higher than the standard for the players. So, when he was griping at the players and pushing the players and yell at the players, he wasn't asking them to do anything that he wasn't willing to do. Michael paid the price, and so therefore he could look at his players say, “I demand that out of you too, because you see me doing it yourself.” Reminds me of the time I was in a leadership conference and two thousand people were there and we were having a great day and close to the end of the day, during the last break, a kid came up and said to me, he said, you know, “Gosh! I love what's happening here. I think I want to do what you do.” You know, I smiled, and I said, “That's good.” I said, “Let me ask you a question, would you like to do what I did so you could do what I do?” You see, Michael, led by example. What Michael did allowed him to do what he did on the court with his own basketball, with his team. That's what gave him what I would call “the moral authority”, which is much higher than a scoring title or a most valuable player can ever give you. It's a step above, it's a step beyond.

Okay, the last lesson is that: One is too small of a number to achieve greatness. And in the early years, Michael Jordan was really focused heavily on his own play and his own scoring, and then he realized that if it was all about him, he wasn't going to win any championships, and so, he said, “I've got to make it about the team. We've got to get good players around us. It's a team game.” And the moment that they put the emphasis upon not the greatest player ever, Michael Jordan, but the emphasis upon teamwork and playing together and passing and playing an aggressive defense and covering for each other, the moment they made it about teamwork, they began to, you know, that's when the real magic happened. They began to win championships. It's just always true, it's always about the team. Again, in my 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, the Law of the Inner Circle that I learned at the age of 40 when I looked at myself and I thought, “I'm not as successful as I want to be, what's wrong?” And I came to the conclusion that I hadn't spent enough time developing my team and that's when the Law of the Inner Circle was created. Those closest to you determine the level of your success.

Mark:                    Hey, okay, so welcome back, Chris! As I've already said, I'm so glad that I get to co-host this one with you because of all the athletic examples and the leadership there and, of course, your journey, your son's journey, your daughter's journey, and so I can't wait, to be honest with you, to hear from you today just as much. But, yeah, didn't John do a great job on this? Let’s jump in, man!

Chris Goede:        Yeah, let's do it! I have to just confess really quick, you know, this came out like John mentioned, during the, kind of, COVID, everybody shelter in place, and talked about how this is the number one watched documentary. My entire family was on the couch like we had popcorn like every Sunday night, like that was what we were looking forward to. There was no sports on TV, and so, man, when we found out that they kind of moved up the release date, and we could all participate, we loved it. And I'm mad at myself, because I saved all 10 episodes, and I said, “I'm going to go back, and I'm going to pull out leadership lessons.” And sure enough, here's John releasing it, and just simply communicating some of the greatest lessons and I'm listening to him and going, “Yep, I remember that. Yep, I remember that.” So, I'm looking forward to unpacking this just because there's so much leadership content. I think we could do a lesson probably on each one of the ten, and not kind of the summary of all of it, but I'm excited to talk about it. So, I appreciate you having me on here. So, let's just dive in and talk about this first one! John says it’s probably the most important, and I agree with him, and I want to get your perspective on this in regards to the journey that you've had, your leadership journey, John mentoring and pouring into you. John says that Michael Jordan’s success was greater than his talent or his skill. We all know John is a great thinker, as a great communicator, as a great writer, but his success is not because of those skills set. When you think about John and the seat that you've been able to ride right next to him for so many years, and all that you guys are doing from country transformation and country leaders to all the way down to individual leaders, talk a little bit about some of the things that separate what John does and have made him successful and significant, that are different than some that may have the ability to communicate like he does.

Mark:                    Well, here's the funny thing, even about the first three points, Chris, and I want to say a couple of things, got a couple of stories to share that just really impacted me as I was listening. But in these first three points, I want to give you a couple of thoughts and then I want you to respond back to some of your experience being so close all of your life in the athletic world. I mean you got this, but the first one he says, Michael's success was bigger than his talent. Number two, he said the margin between winning and losing is small; it's incredibly thin. And then his third one, is mental toughness is core to the champion. So, is it talent? Is it mental toughness? Is it the ability to push past that thin line between winning and losing? And back to this first one that John talks about, and that is this concept that you are not just as good as you are because of experience; it’s because what you do with that experience. You're not just good because you lucked out, leader, wherever you're leading, it’s because what you do with the opportunity you got that somebody else didn't get. I'm sitting here, I'm the leader of the John Maxwell brand, and arguably one of the most noted leadership icons, leadership brands in the world. In fact, if you ask all of our team, we are, but that's another story. But we're recognize. There's not many leadership authors that has sold over 33 million books. That being said, I am convinced, Chris, for me, I'm not going to pick on you and Jake and Jason here today, but for me, I'm a better leader because of the leadership bubble that I'm in. We talk all the time that there's a leadership bubble, and people have come and gone in John's world and led in John's world and when they get out to another environment, they realize what they had tagging along beside John. I've often said I'm a type A leader, I've got a vision, I'm driven, but I've often said a second chair to somebody else's vision like John Maxwell is infinitely more impacting than first chair to my own vision. Here's what that means… it means that while I hopefully possess a little bit of talent as a leader, being in an environment in a champion environment like John Maxwell, and you, Chris, you, Jason, you, Jake, we have created here at the John Maxwell Enterprise makes me a better leader. I believe Michael Jordan, in my opinion, is one of two that has a valid case of arguing of being the GOAT, the greatest of all time. I do. In fact, if I had to pick, I'd pick Michael Jordan. I didn't get to watch much Michael Jordan, because I didn't have a lot of access to sports and that kind of thing back in the day. I get to watch a lot more of LeBron. However, if you look at the dynasty of the Chicago Bulls, if you look at the dynasty of Pippen and others in the assist of Michael Jordan, not just the shots, if you look at the game winners…boy, their stats that stack up for Michael, but it was a system. I get asked all the time, “Who's the greatest of all time in football?” And of course, 90% of you that just heard that question that watch football you went, “Tom Brady! Tom Brady!” I get it, I get it, and arguably he is the GOAT.

Chris:                    Except for in your household because your wife would say—

Mark:                    —She would say Peyton Manning all day long, of the year. And there's a big argument there. But I will tell you this, I am convinced that however great Tom Brady is, Belichick’s system made him better. And I think that's what John is saying, those great leaders, those great leadership teams out there, leaders do more than try to cultivate great talent, cultivate great culture, as well, cultivate great assistant role players, because it's more than just that. I was thinking, going on down to the margin between winning and losing is small, but it's significant. And, Chris, I'm sitting here, we're right in the middle still of crisis, after crisis, after crisis, after crisis. These crises are making us lead different, and my challenge to those of you listening today, it’s my challenge to you, and I, Chris, that's the challenge that I'll give to you, Jason, myself and our other six leadership team tomorrow, are we sharpening ourselves during COVID? Or, are we allowing COVID to dull us down? Because the margin is so small, while we have to take some time off in social distancing, perhaps stay at home or perhaps not be able to engage with clients like we once did, we cannot afford to be dull and to let our leadership become less effective because the margin is too small. When you and I, listening to this podcast, when you and I engage and re-establish a new normal, or establish a new identity, it better be with a sharp leadership because that margin is so thin that John pointed out in Jordan’s story.

Chris:                    Yeah, I'm going to comment on a couple of things that you just mentioned there. We were talking just before we started recording today, and the margin is so thin in good times. We agree that it's probably even thinner in times of crisis, right? And so, we naturally in times like this do have the possibility of becoming a little bit lazy, a little bit, where you get complacent and you're like, “Well, I can't do anything.” But I think it's the organization and the leaders that are sharper now more than ever, with innovation, with engagement, with all kinds of things that come along with this that are going to separate us when we get on the other side of it, or any crisis for that matter. I want to go back to a couple of things you said, these are just coming off the top of my head when you talked about the system, you look at Belichick’s system and you look at the players, pieces he's moved in and out year, after year, after year, after year, and still produce the same result. You also look at his coaching tree and what he has produced in regards to coaching and you just look at that, and you go, “Man, there is a lot to that, like, you can unpack about Belichick’s leadership.” And I do think that that has a lot to do with Tom Brady's success. Incredible quarterback, love how many rings, all that kind of stuff, but I think it starts with Belichick and his system, and his ability to control his culture, right? Because I think that we're going to talk in a little bit about how losing greatness can affect the, you know, can affect the individuals and/or the team. So, we're going to talk about that in just a minute. The other thing I just thought about, there is no doubt about this bubble that we're in, okay? Right? We’ve heard John say, “Rising tide raises all boats.” I thought about this illustration, I remember the day that my football career was over, and it was something I'd known all my life, it's all I ever did since high school, and I can remember walking out of the locker room, and I use this in this illustration, think about two big old steel doors leading out of a locker room out into the open, and I can remember hearing those doors just shut behind me with my stuff in my hand going, “Well, now what?” Right? And I removed myself from that environment, that system, that process, that bubble, and then it became about what Chris was going to do, because I didn’t have anybody else raising the tide. And so, my challenge out of that is when you think about this, and you think about, you're going to have some talented people, some people who have a lot of skills on your team, but as a leader, it's going to be your responsibility to raise that tide and set that bubble for what you guys want and when you do that, it becomes contagious for everybody inside the organization.

Mark:                    Boy, you know, and I mentioned in our intro today, Chris, about you playing at every level. You've played in little league, you played in community ball, you played for schools, you played for college, pro ball. But you know, you're still in that perpetual environment because now you're raising incredible competitors, your son and your daughter. The thing that I think is extremely interesting here is you and many competitors, really, it depends on how you reproduce others based on how you learn. You just talked about your last dance, the door slamming behind you, you went, “Whoa! what's next?” Well, here's what's next, you went and paid that forward, you went and raised a couple of kids that now can learn and stand on your shoulders, not stand in dad’s shoes, that'd be too beneath them. No offense! I've seen your son play…but no offense! But not stand in your shoes, stand on your shoulders. And that's what we all have to do as leaders! Gang, why are you going through COVID-19? Because there may be a crisis down the road that somebody you are reproducing right now, that may be worse than what we're seeing right now, and they need to be standing on your shoulders, not in your shoes.

Chris:                    Yeah, the other thing I thought about too right there, was when that moment happened for me, now, I didn't know this at the time, okay? So, I've learned this just being in your and John's world for so many years, and I can articulate it now. When that happened, I had to go find myself another system, another bubble, in order to lift myself up, right? And so, when you do that, it's that whole thing where you don't want to be the smartest person in the room, and when you put yourself into those shoes, you can see the success or the significance an organization or a team has an not from an individual standpoint.

Mark:                    Yeah, and one more thing on that sorry to interrupt you! I mean, we're camping out on this point, but it’s such a good one! But listen to this, I'm just happy to be back in the studio with you even if it's twelve feet between us. But let me say this too, Chris, you worked in John's world and developed insanely your leadership. I've talked to your wife and she testifies to that. You then went and took what you learned and started your own thing, and by the way, was successful, thank you very much. And then you came back and you're climbing and growing again like I've never seen. I've heard Sarah, your wife, say the same thing. It's because you move in, move out, move around, but when you get in that opportunity, like Michael Jordan did, I think Michael could have been good with the Detroit Pistons. I don't know if he would have been G-O-A-T, I don't know if he would have been GOAT. He got in a system and he made everybody including the system better because he was in the system.

Chris:                    Yeah, and he made a decision and this is something that John, he touched on, but didn't give us a principle for it, where Jordan made that decision to change his mindset of beginning to develop and rely on his other team members, which allowed him the last three championships. So, he had that individual talent, he won three championships. That's amazing! But really how successful he was when he made that shift and decided to say, “Hey, I can't carry this alone, and I began to develop other people.” And get them to start working hard. There's a saying I used to share when I was coaching my son in middle school with the team, where we were not the most talented team in middle school and high school, right? I mean, just losing programs just on paper, on record, not individuals, or what we did to develop them. But I used to tell him all the time, because we were not the most talented team in the entire league. And I used to tell him, “Hey, listen, that talent, when you have the talent, when they don't work hard, we’ll lose to those that are working hard.” Right? So, used to be something like, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.” And going back to John's book, he mentions in the podcast when people say what's your favorite book? Obviously, you know, five levels is ingrained in me and the opportunity for organizational development around the world. But for me, the Talent Is Never Enough, which is now called, Beyond Talent, is so true. And I was just talking Rylan [SP], my son the other day and when you go from being a big fish in a small pond in high school to playing for a Power Five school, okay, that's not going to be easy.

Mark:                    The best school, go Dawgs! Sorry! Sorry!

Chris:                    I think we just gained some listeners.

Mark:                    Or, lost some!

Chris:                    Or we lost some, yeah. But when you think about that whole transition, like, it's not going to be easy. And so now, I said to him, “What are the differentiators? Everybody's talented, some more talented than you. So, what are you doing differently to do that? When are you showing up for meetings? How much do you study in the playbook? What are you doing in regards to, you know, extra reps?” All those things that come with, that John mentions, that separated Michael. And I love it when Michael, you know, the very next day after the season, they didn't win the championship, where was he?

Mark:                    With his trainer in the gym.

Chris:                    Right? And so, oh, man, there's so many things we could talk about in regards to leadership lessons in this, but let me keep you moving because I do want to spend a little bit of time right here with you, because I think for those that are listening, I think this is really important for us to kind of unpack. So, John talks about where he says, “Losing greatness is usually an inside job.” And he gave us a little preface and he said, “Now, listen to me, you're not going to hear this too often.” And so, he repeated it to us and, man, it was so powerful because what he was saying was, hey, when you are great, or when things are going well, okay? Oftentimes, the reason it changes is because of inside factors, not outside factors. Now, we got COVID-19, we got crisis that happen every year, every organization has different crisis. That is not what is going to cause you to lose greatness inside your team and your leadership, it's going to be internal. So, I want to talk to you a little bit about your thoughts on this whole thing, and I want to have two lenses to it. I want to have it from an individual, what happens when the individual begins to lose greatness and how that affects the organization? Then I want to talk about when the culture begins to change, and you begin to lose the culture. To set that up with context here's what I was thinking about, so we all remember in The Last Dance, and by the way, if you haven't watched it, you just need to go watch it and just have your leadership hat on while you're watching it and just take notes from a leadership perspective. When Pippin, right? In one of the episodes, you could tell he was unmotivated, right? So, we had unmotivated team members or an unmotivated individual, because he didn't like his contract, he felt like he wasn’t heard, he wasn't appreciated all that kind of good stuff. So, he was unmotivated, right? And it affected the team. The other thing is I want to think about was the general manager, Jerry Krause, he, I think, had a lack of empathy for the players. It was more about him, but then also, he didn't do a very good job of allowing the team members to feel appreciated, right? As a leader, general manager, as a leader, he didn't do a very good job. Now, I know he had the GOAT on the team and all kinds of stuff, that doesn't matter. That doesn't matter. So, with that as context, the thought process I just want to talk about is, when you look at leaders that have lost greatness, it's an individual inside job. What does that look like? How do you prevent that? Or when you've seen cultures and even our culture here, when you begin to see us dip a little bit, okay? It's not from external factors. You got to come back in because it's an inside job. And so, maybe it's the fact that we're not appreciating team members, they don't feel appreciated, maybe we don't have lack of empathy, whatever that might be. Talk to us a little bit about that long set up to where I wanted to get you to really talk about it because I think this right here, John has a number one, I agree. But this is right here, I think this is something you could camp out on for a long time.

Mark:                    We could, I mean, every one of these points, and I love how John did it, but I also wanted him to go so much longer. And today, I just want to have a three-hour podcast with you. Let me tell you, I think there's a similarity to the decline that we see personally and corporately as it relates to a losing on the inside. And I think both, the root, the similarity is when either one individual or a team, a culture, an organization begins to focus inward. When we begin to focus on what is my stats, my contribution, my bright’s on this team, it begins to be about our own self gain. And I think that when you have, John says this, “When you've tasted significance, success will never satisfy.” And I've seen a lot of teams win a championship, I mean, watch any sport that you want to. Seen a lot of teams, I've even seen some repeats. But, boy, when you get into three-peats, and when you get into four out of five and six out of seven, when you get into what the Chicago Bulls, the New England Patriots, the huge, incredible, corporate teams that has just stood the test of time with crisis, there is an ability to externally focus and not internally, kind of, own it and make it just about us, that is a key ingredient. No, no, team, I mean, you look at the LA Lakers, you look at some of the talent that's floating in and out of there, and they can't create that dynasty. They can't create it and I think it's because a lot of individuals on that team that was good was too focused on themselves and their benefit. Now, it is an inside job. So, let's stay there a minute. John wrote a book, Developing the Leader Within You, and it's this belief that for greatness, you're going to have to be bigger on the inside than you are on the outside. What did John say? He said, “A leader will never ask a team to do something they haven't already done.” They're going to get it right within themselves, before they extend that challenge for others to go after. I've seen a lot of guys that don't want to put in the effort if everybody else is not. I've seen few guys to say, “I'll put in the effort and then look at you and call you out if you don't do it, too.” And that's where we got to be. That's exactly what we've got to challenge each other to do. As an individual, we got to get it right that when no one's looking we're still in the gym the next morning with the trainer. Even if the news media is not there, even if everybody's went home, even if the other team is drinking it up and enjoying, and we know where we need to be. That's an inside job. But then five days later, he's called Scottie Pippen, and everybody else and says, “Hey, boys, where you at? Where you at? I've been in here five days. Where are you?” And a great leader knows how to pay that price on the inside first, but then knows how to look at everybody else and say, “Now that I've been showing you what to do, where are you?” And that's what that inside job really needs to look like.

Chris:                    If you don't start with yourself, you've heard John say this, right? Hardest person to lead is himself. If you don't start right there with that example that you were just talking about, then what's going to end up happening, not only could the greatness be lost because of the team or the culture, but then you got to unpack that and get in and go, “It's my fault.” As the leader of this team, whatever size team it is, maybe it's your family, whatever, the community, doesn't matter. I think to your point, it starts with you on the inside job. Alright, so let's keep moving, right? Number five, John says, “Be the example so you can say follow me.” And I just mentioned that because it is a—leading into this next conversation that I want to have with you, it follows on the point you just made so brilliantly about being an inside job. But I thought it was fascinating that Michael was really worried, Michael Jordan, I say that like I know him. Michael was really worried about when this documentary came out how he was going to be received as a leader. I read some articles early on about, he's just worried about the perception and how hard he was on people and he pushed people. But, man, when I think back to some of the greatest coaches, or the greatest teammates, or the greatest team members I've ever had, man, that wasn't something that I ever, now regret, was how much they pushed me how much they spoke into me, how much they challenged me. Hey, five days later… “Where you guys at? I've been in the gym.” And then John goes on, and you and I've talked about this on a previous podcast from a high level, but he goes on and talks about how, you know, some people want to have respect more than approval, and some people want to lead more than they're like. And then he goes in and he gives us kind of a couple of different options around when to push your team members, and when to have patience with them. And so, I'll reiterate these and I'm going to throw it to you, and I want you to speak to that because John has been pouring into you in this area for several years now. But he says, “Man, you got to push them in areas of choice, of their values, of their strengths.” Michael knew they were good basketball players, he knew he could push them to play harder defense during practice, get in the gym after hours. How many free throws? He knew he could do all that. Where there was patience is maybe there's lack of maturity, can I say Dennis Rodman? Maybe? In that situation and how he was patient. Are you kidding me? Phil and Michael just let him go to Las Vegas, you know, or maybe they're a little bit inexperienced, or maybe they lacked a skill, you know, and he was just patient with Steve Kerr or whatever, when he knew that maybe he wasn't as skillful of a shooter early on in his career, but towards the end of the career, he was dishing it to him. So, when you think about that your leadership hat on, just talk a little bit about how John has poured into you, and then even when you, as a leader, feel like you can push someone on your team, versus maybe you got to be a little more patient with them.

Mark:                    Yeah, and so you and Jason, who you're in the studio with me, 12 feet away, Jason is in here with us via Skype, you guys are getting ready to hear a snippet of tomorrow's leadership meeting. We have a leadership meeting, we have a lot to do all of you in podcast land, the day we're recording this, I've got a leadership meeting for six hours tomorrow, and I've already sent everybody a text and said, “Adjust your calendar. I want three hours of those. I want 50% of this meeting.” And it's because of this right here, this point that you're making, Chris, that we now have been leading, those of you listening to this podcast, we've been leading for four and a half, three and a half, four and a half months through unstable, no stability times. It feels like years, absolutely. But let me tell you something, there comes a time to where you stop assessing and stop trying to figure it out, and you've got to determine I'm all in, I'm committed no matter if there's another left hand turn or a right hand turn. And as leaders, we've given our team’s, I've given our leadership team time to adapt, assess, figure it out, but here's what I've discovered over the last three or four weeks…it's time for us to do what I've been doing for 19 years with John, and that is be all in, be committed to the end game, and show what it means to be in the gym even in difficult times. Now, not physically. I'm not trying to freak all you people with social distancing out, but in the leadership mental gym, we've got to challenge ourselves to jump in and be all committed. John said something the other day, Chris, Jason, y'all were in the room, he said, “Let me tell you something—" He was doing a whole talk on commitment, he said, “People that say, ‘show me clarity and I'll tell you if I'm committed.’ Kick them off the team as fast as you can because nobody should be waiting on clarity to get commitment. They should be giving commitment and then wait for clarity because they're all in. You want people that are committed before clarity.” Do we know what the relapse is going to be? Do you know what the Fall is going to be? Chris, do we even know what your business is going to be like in September, October, November? No, but let me look at you and tell you something right here, that you're going to hear again tomorrow, we know we're going to be in business in September, we know we're going to be figuring it out then, and this wait and see has almost made us tenacious or tentative in our commit—not tenacious, tentative in our commitment and it shouldn't. Because we have a message, those of you that's listening to this podcast, we are people centric, values based, leadership people. We serve people so that they can be better at what they're calling their purpose, their “why” is, therefore, we've got to get out of the Corona fog and quit letting that fog excuse us from a commitment to get through it and to see it different. That's what we saw in Michael, he was a guy that said, “I am committed to this and I'm going to challenge everybody around me to the point of being uncomfortable around me that you need to step up.”

Chris:                    What you just, kind of, put together for us was each one of John's points right there, and team that are listening, those that have downloaded and are a part of this podcast family with us, what you just got to hear, Jason and Jake, and I got to kind of hear for the first time, but that is going to be our rallying cry moving forward. That is our team's rally. What is your personal rallying cry? What is the rallying cry that you need to give your team right now for the next three months? Because you're going to figure it out, and so you just got a little glimpse of what it is for Mark Cole. And so, my question for you then is, what is it for you? Well, let me give you the last point, and then I'll kind of wrap up with a thought and I'm a throwback to you. Okay? Because if not, then Jason will come in here and just take the mics away from us. John’s last comment, which is so good coming off what you said, which he says, “Hey, one is too small number to achieve greatness.” Michael couldn't achieve those by himself, John could not achieve what he's doing without you by his side, you couldn't achieve what you're doing without the people you have. All of us have to be on this journey with a team. Put yourself in an environment and then what we call the leadership bubble, that challenges you to be a part of a team that will allow you to achieve something greater than you could only imagine. Listen, I sat in a meeting that Mark was just mentioning last week going, “Well, my goodness, my thinking is awful small.” And we started talking about some different things on how we were going to reach different people, and John said, “Well, let me go first, I'm just going to throw out an idea!” And I thought, “Well, I'm not talking about my idea now.” Right? Because it just out trumps me, and so, we got to get on this team. My last thought is, as I was thinking about this whole Last Dance, and John wanting to do a leadership lesson on it, I do want to encourage you to go back and with John's principles, I want you to watch it, maybe pull some of your own leadership principles out. But I also want you to watch it from the perspective of Phil Jackson next time, because there are leadership lessons as a leader of a great team that I don't want people to miss and how he led Michael and Scottie and Dennis Rodman and their different personalities, and they all had different perspectives, and all that kind of stuff, and the rallying cry that he created, that you just created for us was this is our last dance. Now, they won six out of seven, they would have won seven if Michael wouldn't went and tried to play baseball. But his, to the team walked in, he said, “This is our last dance.” And that got them through that season of all kinds of craziness. That was their rallying cry. You just heard Mark sharing our rallying, right? What is your rallying cry? It's not The Last Dance, you're going to keep dancing. But what is it that you need to be communicating to yourself first? Because I know you've told yourself that message, what you're going to share with us already and then with your team.

Mark:                    Yeah, boy, you've got me wanting to have our leadership meeting right now. It's what you've got. You know, I'm going to let us sign off on that point that you just made, Chris, because this whole concept, this whole belief, that one is too small of a number to achieve greatness. Gone are the days to where one political leader or even one political party can save us. Gone is the data where one stream of influence, the church stream, or the business stream can save us. We've got a world challenge on our hands right now that we better come together. A friend of ours just did a Monday—well we talked about him a couple of podcasts ago, Miles McPherson talked about The Third Option, gang, as a leader, as a leadership group, as people that are passionate about John Maxwell style of leadership and all of you listening to this podcast, you're passionate about John's style of leadership, we better come together and acquiesce for a third option. And this, “My way is right.” Doesn't work anymore, it's got to be our way is the best for a way forward, and that is the message that John is saying right here. Michael Jordan was incredible, but Michael never failed to understand the importance of his team and he never stopped holding his team to a standard higher than their own. He held them up and he got criticized for it. I know people that watched The Last Dance and started disliking Michael Jordan. They said, “How can that rascal be celebrated and all that kind of stuff?” I get it. I understand, the values, probably, were not some of my values, and they probably weren't some of yours. But let me tell you what we can learn from that dynasty, he kept people at a standard that was higher than their own. We at the John Maxwell Organization and the enterprise, that's our passion. That's why we do this podcast. We do this podcast to add value to you so that you will then go and multiply value to others. One of the things that we do in our organization is we have a team of certified members, they’re speakers, we have worked with them on how to speak better. Some of them are not entrepreneurs, they're not trying to build their business. They're trying to communicate better, they're trying to coach better, and I want to challenge you, we've got a free resource for you that I want you to go to Johnmaxwellspeaker.com, Johnmaxwellspeaker.com, we recorded something a week ago on how to be a communicator like John Maxwell and to learn how to be a speaker that will make a difference in a small group or in a large group. And so, if you'll go to Johnmaxwellspeaker.com, it's a free resource, you'll get to watch the entire program, and then you'll get to see more about how to join our team. I hope you will do that, Johnmaxwellspeaker.com. Hey, I hope you've enjoyed today! Chris and I certainly have, we should have made this two-part, three-part, ten-part, I don't know! It should have been a lot longer. We've went long, but I hope we've added value to you. Now, if you will go to the link: Maxwellpodcast.com/lastdance. We've got a bonus resource for you, it's a worksheet that will cover the four points that John covered here. We hope we've added value to you, we hope you'll tell somebody else that we can add value to them, and we hope next week between me, you, and the people you tell about this podcast that we're bigger and better. Let's lead! Let's make a difference!

5 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons from Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance””

  1. Thanks for this talk today. Every single minute was valuable.
    Quick question: At the end of the podcast, Mark mentioned a resource at johnMaxwellspeaker.com. However, I’ve been to the site but can’t find video. How can we access it, please?

    1. Hi Ima, you can find the video clicking the button on that page that says “Register for the Replay.” Please let us know if you have any other questions.

  2. Hey, I’ve been listening to the podcast for some time now, really love the development it provides for me and have never once disagreed with the content. In this episode however, the term ‘alpha male’ really got to me. Much like how Mark’s well intentioned comment about the term ‘redneck’ raised a concern with his colleague in an earlier episode, ‘alpha male’ reminds me of bullies, full of machismo who beat their chests and shout the loudest just like the (sometimes more evolved) silverback in the jungle. As an introvert I’ve risen above this behaviour to see that this isn’t the true talent of leadership. And though I’m male myself, the term alpha MALE already limits a whole classification of leaders and perhaps could be misinterpreted by new listeners who don’t know John well enough to know this was in no way his intention. Thanks again for the great message though, look forward to your podcasts in the future.

    1. Hey Michael, thank you for sharing this. You bring up a great point that terms like “alpha male” may be well intended, but can also sound demeaning or domineering. We apologize for using a term that struck you as such. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and for helping us be better.

  3. Are you familiar with the work of Aaron Dignan? I think he would make an amazing guest for a candid conversation.

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