The Last Dance & Leadership

Editor’s Note: In honor of Memorial Day.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

Did you see ESPN’s “The Last Dance?”

The 10-hour documentary chronicles the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls who won six NBA championships during a magical run in the 90s.
It’s must see TV and the 10 hours fly by. I could have watched at least ten more hours; the story was that compelling.
Much has been written about the documentary especially the leadership skills and personality of Jordan whose basketball skills were other worldly but whose personality was… how shall I say it…challenging.
In short, Jordan led through a combination of hard work, dedication and bullying that at least on two occasions led to actual violence. He punched two teammates during practice sessions that got so intense that they …well …led to fisticuffs.

Jordan had impossibly high standards. Winning was the only thing that mattered.
If he sensed you weren’t dedicated, or you were weak, he pounced and wouldn’t let up until he was satisfied you were not going to get in the way of winning.
There’s no arguing that he got results. Six rings. And I was reminded through the documentary that he was the best player I’ve ever seen.
But when asked about their teammate, many of the Bulls who played alongside MJ hedged their feelings. Yes he was great and he made others better. Yes we won. But boy could he be a jerk and yes he crossed the line many times.
At times it was painful too watch. You could see how his teammates are still struggling with Jordan’s style.

There are other examples of great individual talents whose personalities left a lot to be desired.
Steve Jobs led Apple to great heights but was said to be brutal to team members.
In the HBO film “LBJ-All The Way” Bryan Cranston portrays Lyndon Johnson as an expert politician but a man lacking in tact and manners. A theme throughout the film is LBJ’s reluctance to choose Hubert Humphrey as his running mate in 1964 because he openly worries that Humphrey is too nice.
You have to be mean to succeed in a blood sport such as politics, he tells Humphrey.
Which begs the question: do you?
Do you have to be mean and a bully to succeed?
I’m not so sure.
Although it’s hard to argue with the success of Jobs, Jordan and LBJ —who sure passed a lot of landmark legislation before getting swallowed by Vietnam—I’d like to believe that kind, empathetic, servant leadership is a more reliable and sustainable model.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be tough at times. There are instances that call for leaders to be brutally honest and there are times when leaders are called upon to take on bullies. And sometimes  the best way to take on a bully is to give him or her a taste of their own medicine.
Sometimes it’s the only thing a bully understands.
But when it comes to day to day effective leadership I think those who lead with love  get more done.
Maya Angelou said it best: people may forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel.
In Michael Jordan’s case they won’t forget the six titles or the soaring dunks but they also won’t forget that they didn’t feel all that great at times ducking his punches and his insults.
Of course, it’s  hard to argue with results, but few of us are Michael Jordan.
For those with modest talents who wish to change the world,  I think the best way to lead is with love and affection.
Now some may feel that love is a strong word. It is.
But it’s essential for success.
Mayors should love their cities. CEOs should love their company’s mission, their employees and their customers.
Love is the killer app.
It enables you to find hidden reserves when trouble comes; and trouble always comes.
Passion for your cause will ensure you succeed. Jordan, Jobs and others had it. But they wouldn’t have been any less dominant if they mixed their passion with an old fashioned dose of kindness.

Wisdom Amid The Pomp & Circumstance

Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech is considered a graduation classic.

Before we drift too far from graduation season, we wanted to share some of our favorite grad speech snippets.
We hope you enjoy and we wish our local graduates all the best in the years to come.

Steve Jobs Stanford 2005

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

J.K. Rowling, Harvard 2008

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me,” she said. “[R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

 

Winston Churchill, 1941 Harrow School

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

 

Jeff Bezos, 2010, Princeton

“Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

 

Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) Lake Shore College 1977 – a 75 second commencement address.

“My uncle ordered popovers

from the restaurant’s bill of fare.

And when they were served,

he regarded them

with a penetrating stare …

Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom

as he sat there on that chair:

“To eat these things,”

said my uncle,

“you must exercise great care.

You may swallow down what’s solid …

BUT …

you must spit out the air!”

 

And …

as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,

that’s darned good advice to follow.

Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.

And be careful what you swallow.”

 

Stephen Colbert, 2006 Knox College

“Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or be disappointed in us. Cynics always say no … for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.”

 

Conan O’Brien, Harvard 2000

“I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of the Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good. So that’s what I wish for all of you—the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over.”

Tim Cook, 2019 Tulane

“Don’t waste time on problems that have been solved. Don’t get hung up on what other people say is practical. Instead, steer your ship into the choppy seas. Look for the rough spots, the problems that seem too big, the complexities that other people are content to work around. It’s in those places that you will find your purpose. It’s there that you can make your greatest contribution.”