Like many others, I’ve been watching the ESPN / Netflix documentary “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan’s time with the Chicago Bulls.
I was expecting to see some great basketball footage and to hear about MJ’s dedication to his craft. What surprised me was how many useful insights Phil Jackson shared about how to coach / manage a team.
Great coaching is critical
I’m not a basketball aficionado. Growing up in England I was aware of the game and had heard of Michael Jordan, but it wasn’t really important compared to football and cricket.
So I’d never heard of Phil Jackson, but it turns out that his success as a coach actually dwarfs Jordan’s as a player. While Jordan may have won 6 championships in 8 years, as a coach, Jackson won those same 6 championships, and then immediately went on to win 3 more in a row with the Lakers. For those keeping count at home, that’s 6 in a row, and 9 in 11 years.
It was fascinating to watch how he handled a diverse group of players, including the super-competitive Jordan, the disgruntled Scottie Pippen, and the off-his-rocker Dennis Rodman.
In the early 1990s, Jordan was a huge star, but the team wasn’t winning championships, because their opponents would focus all their efforts on shutting him down – and the rest of the team was weak by comparison.
In the documentary, we hear how Phil Jackson told MJ that he needed to elevate his teammates.
“I’m not worried about you, But we have to find other ways to make the other guys better.”Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan
Experts need to elevate the team
This approach doesn’t just apply to sports – but any of us who have expertise or manage a team need to think the same way.
It’s not enough to focus all our energies on becoming the best we can be, we also need to:
- document our knowledge
- train the rest of the team, to elevate their skills
- give other people responsibility – the chance to put their skills into action.
In The Last Dance, this meant working with other players in training, and allowing them the chance to take crucial shots in big games.
In my job, it means investing in the skills of the consultants on my team. It also means that those consultants will often spend time walking through a task with one of our clients. Even though it’s easier to “just do it” ourselves, it’s better for our clients if we can help share our knowledge, and help build up the skills of the technicians who work with us. For our retainer clients, that’s part of the package.
What’s the application for your situation? What skills do you need to share? Where do you need to invest to build your bench, and create an organization that’s resilient and successful – not reliant on a single person? Even if that person is a superstar.