23 Business Lessons from The Last Dance

The Last Dance Aired on ESPN & Netflix Documenting the 1998 World Champion Chicago Bulls, What Did You Learn?

Originally posted on CEO Blog Nation

The Last Dance–the documentary about Michael Jordan’s final year as a Chicago Bull recently aired. There’s a lot of lessons that entrepreneurs and business owners can learn from sports and this documentary was no different. There are many things that we can learn from the team and the cast in the documentary including Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. It’s been a month since the conclusion of the last episode, and we wanted to know what business lessons we could extract from the documentary.

Here’s what entrepreneurs and business owners can learn from the documentary:

#1 – Give Yourself and Your Employees a Little Slack

Image Credit: Orlando Rios

One of my biggest takeaways was in regards to Dennis Rodman's allowance by Phil Jackson to skip practice and get away when needed. Sometimes you just have to do you for a bit. It doesn't necessarily mean that by doing so it will hinder performance when you return. Everybody has their own way of dealing with stress. Maybe give yourself and your employees a little more slack occasionally and they'll still go to the net for you.

Thanks to Orlando Rios, Dropkick Ads!

#2 – Winning & Leadership Have a Price

Image Credit: Brett Prentiss

The quote by Michael Jordan could not be more true when it comes to the digital marketing industry. When it comes to winning, it required hard work, dedication, and persistence to make it happen. To get started, my business partner and I traveled the world from Chaing Mai, Thailand, to Southington CT in learning the art of digital marketing. This separated us from our local competitors. We did presentations at the local golf courses, chamber of commerce in our area to demonstrate we were willing to lead. Because of the price we paid with our time, our wallet we created a brand locally that business owners trust. The price to succeed wasn't easy, but I'm glad we trusted our instinct to keep going. We wanted to be a champion like those 90's bulls and will continue to be the best at what we do. Winning has a price and leadership has a price. I'm glad to pay it at any price.

Thanks to Brett Prentiss, Instinct Marketing!

#3 – Business Partnership

Image Credit: John Pinedo

I recently started a second business (digital marketing agency) with a long-time friend who's a big basketball fan. Although I'm not the biggest sports fan, I can appreciate greatness, and I extracted a lot of lessons from The Last Dance. As a successful internet blogger starting a second business with a business partner, my most significant takeaway quote from The Last Dance was, *“I didn’t win without Scottie Pippen, and that’s why I consider him my best teammate of all time. He helped me so much in the way I approached the game in the way I played the game. Whenever they speak Michael Jordan, they should speak Scottie Pippen.”* That's the way I see my business partnership. I fulfill the tech role, and my business partner fulfills the sales role. Both are essential in a business startup.

Thanks John Pinedo, Freedom Bound Business!

#4 – Wasn't One Big Happy Family

Photo Credit: Tom Scarda

I'm the CEO and Founder of The Franchise Academy. I watched the series and it was very well done. The Chicago Bulls were the team of the 90's and had a great deal of success. However, it wasn't one big happy family. Scottie Pippen was grossly underpaid which caused conflict with management, specifically general manager Jerry Krause. Coach Phil Jackson also didn't always see eye-to-eye with Krause. Even Michael Jordan had his conflicts with other players such as Steve Kerr and Bill Cartwright. He punched Kerr and told teammates not to pass the ball to Cartwright. Despite all the turmoil they still managed to win six championships in eight years. The lesson from those Bulls' teams is you don't have to always get along if you can unite towards a common goal.

Thanks to Tom Scarda, The Franchise Academy

#5 – “I'll Show You” Mindset

Image Credit: Derek L

The Last Dance taught us the value of work ethic, determination, and perseverance. Without these qualities, it’s hard to be successful in business or any aspect of life for that matter. What the Last Dance taught me was to use setbacks as powerful motivation to come back even stronger with a supreme vengeance. I loved Micheal Jordan's attitude of finding little things that opposing players would do or say after getting a basket and using that as motivation to absolutely destroy them on the court the next game. Business owners can take lessons from this by taking doubts from outside forces and using it as motivation to prove those who doubted them wrong. I guarantee you some of the most successful business owners like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerburg had plenty of those people who openly doubted them in their business’s formative years. Did they listen to the detractors and give up? No, they used it as fuel to show those people what they can achieve.

Thanks to Derek L, Floating Authority!

#6 – Never Ignore Your Weakness

Image Credit Patrick Dean Hodgson

My biggest takeaway from The Last Dance Documentary is never to ignore your weakness. In episode four, we see Michael Jordan start to lift weights during the summer of 1990 to build muscle to combat the Detroit Pistons, who eliminated his Chicago Bulls team three years in a row. As a result of Michael embracing his weakness of no weight training in the past, he finally breaks through in 1991 when the Bulls sweep the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their first NBA championship. As an entrepreneur, the lesson for me is not to ignore a weakness that you can easily correct because you run the risk of that issue becoming much bigger in the future. If you address it early, you have a great chance of catapulting your business as Jordan did with the Bulls.

Thanks to Patrick Dean Hodgson, Media Dean LLC!

#7 – Many Things

Image Credit: Jeff Lichtenstein

I’m embarrassed to admit it but I remember being disappointed that the Bulls were getting Jordan. You didn’t win in the NBA without a dominant center, so Sam Bowie was my man. I just turned 15 and later I learned from following the Bulls closely, that times change. I became a much more open and even anticipatory to change because of the that lesson. For example in my real estate business right now I immediately purchased multiple 3D virtual reality machines and am moving our business quickly in that arena. We are live streaming multiple open houses, doing interviews on real estate related topics and profiling a local business. Basically creating our own TV network that we are working on right now, I’m embracing this period as an opportunity. After watching the “Last Dance”, I can’t believe how much I think I learned from that while growing up watching Jordan, Krause and the Bulls. I’ve built our 55 person organization on good character only. Something I learned from Krause’s addition by subtraction. I was in Junior High when Orlando Woolridge came to speak about “Just Say No” and then was on the front cover of the Chicago Tribune for getting busted (that was the atmosphere of partying that MJ was talking about). 1) I sometimes take a risk on a talent who is a good person and hard worker but a bit of an oddball. But only one because we have good character and hard work internally that the oddball would respect. That was learned from Rodman fitting in and being surrounded with respected players with good character in 1996. 2) I know to go all out at all times. That’s Jordan. Running at fear like now was all Jordan. 3) Being kind and tough at the same time was Paxson. 4) Not to be too sentimental if best for the organization was the lesson of the Oakley and Cartwright trade. 5) Long term planning and keeping things secretive so your competition doesn’t know was all Krause. 6) Relating to people on an individual basis is all Phil Jackson. 7) Even negative things of what not to do like not infighting or getting a big head learned from observing the later Bulls. 8) I learned to appreciate that things don’t last forever and not to take tomorrow for granted. It took a village for me to grow up like it does with everyone. Parents and Grandparents and friends and teachers but the Bulls of 1994-1998 had an impact on me that I didn’t fully realize until now.

Thanks to Jeff Lichtenstein, Echo Fine Properties

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#8 – Never Projected the Past Into the Future

Image Credit: John Boyd

In episode 10 Mark Vancil , who wrote Rare Air provided insight into Jordan's psyche that business leaders and entrepreneurs can benefit from: He said Jordan never projected the past into the future. The mental toughness to do that is a common trait among successful entrepreneurs and among business leaders that rise to the top of their industries. Its much easier to downsize your aspirations and stay in comfort zones for fear of failure or the fear of the unknown. Its probably less then 1% of people that have that Jordon-like mental toughness and confidence to face the risks and the uncertainty of being an entrepreneur or an industry leader.  Jordan wrote his own script. He didn't let past failures create future failures. Instead, he worked harder and he developed the mental toughness to be able to write his own script. I think Mark Vancil was right on the money with his take on Jordan.

Thanks to John Boyd, The Boyd Company

#9 – Performance is a Team Sport

Image Credit: Bill Flynn

One thing that stuck out for me is that people are spiky, not well rounded. Since performance is a team sport, it is imperative that the leader/coach/GM recruit, craft and lead a well rounded team not try to create well-rounded individuals. Those individuals' strengths when brought together in a sort of guided alchemy is where the magic is and the consistent results are generated. It was very noticeable in throughout the series that the Bulls did not do as well when either Jordan, Rodman or Pippen was not there for long stretches (either physically or in the case of Rodman, mentally). They each filled a vital role to consistently succeed. For example, Jackson let Rodman be himself and did not hold him to the same standard as others. as long as he consistently performed. Jordan did this as well which must have been hard for him. Jordan had food poisoning, Pippen had back pain. I would argue that even at less than peak performance individually, the team was better with their presence and intelligence on the court than not. According to ADP Institute Research, in a survey of almost 20,000 people across nineteen countries, 83 percent of respondents stated that they are on at least one team, 64 percent of those people say they are on more than one team, and 75 percent of the respondents said the team they are on is not reflected in the org chart. Team leaders MUST know how to do this to get the best outcome. The Bulls proved this in my mind. Running a company is hard enough with changes in technology, markets, and customers’ needs. You can’t control a lot of what happens around you, but you have a lot of control over who you hire and the environment you create. Instead of putting obstacles in your way, set yourself up to succeed with every action, every behavior, every hire, and every team.”

Thanks to Bill Flynn, Further, Take the Guesswork out of Growth Coach!

#10 – Those the Put in the Work Will Come Out On Top

Image: Blake Taylor

The Last Dance emphasizes the message that those who put in the work will come out on top. This can be applied to almost any situation, but it is extremely applicable to business. Michael Jordan was focused on improving his craft every day, as you should be with your business. If you want to be at the top of your industry, the best way to achieve your goal is to work harder than everyone else.

Thanks to Blake Taylor, Synergy Business Brokers!


#11 – A Few Key Lessons

Photo Credit: Paige Arnof-Fenn

I started a global marketing and branding firm 19 years ago and am also a big sports fan especially the NBA. I loved watching the MJ documentary and reliving his career highlights but I also took away a few key lessons: (1) As great as MJ was Scottie Pippen made him shine even brighter. Who is
the Pippen on your team? (2) Great organizations can create a strong culture that develop and build winning teams but a little emotional intelligence goes a long way. Stay hungry and humble. (3) The final minutes really stuck with me when MJ was able to listen to management and ownership in their own words for the first time. Jerry Krause was an excellent GM who put together an incredible team but he let his ego get in the way and forgot the bigger picture. It was never about him or the owners who made a business decision over money and profit above everything. As MJ said they would have all come back on a one year deal even Phil Jackson so the team was blown up over ego. When the team wins there is plenty of credit to go around so be generous life does not need to be a zero sum game. Nobody cares who the richest guy at the cemetery is but everyone remembers the champions.

Thanks to Page Arnof-Fenn, Mavens & Moguls!

#12 – Accountability Starts At The Top

If you are going to demand excellence out of your employees, you better hold yourself accountable to the same standard. Michael Jordan demanded excellence from everyone in the Chicago Bulls Organization. He was hard on his teammates and it lead to contentious relationships that still last to this day. But, you never heard one person say that he didn't hold himself to that same standard. Everything he asked of them, he did himself. Your employees are going to question your dedication and aptitude. That's human nature. But when you are giving your all to your company, receptive to their ideas/thoughts and can admit your own faults, they will run through a wall for you. Which is exactly what Jordan's Bulls teammates did in the 90's.

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Thanks to Dorian Clark, Group 82 Media!

#13 – Managing Different Personalities

Image Credit: Jacob Edwards-Bytom

One of the things that stood out to me during the series was how Phil Jackson was able to manage the different personalities on the Bulls team. He had a lot of egos and personalities to juggle. I was particularly impressed with how he dealt with Dennis Rodman. Dennis was an incredible rebounder and defender on the court, but off the court, he was chaotic and unpredictable. He liked to party. He even missed some practices because of it. Most coaches would have rejected this type of behavior. However, Phil Jackson realized that he couldn't treat Dennis Rodman like the rest of the players. So he embraced Dennis and gave him extra autonomy. I believe this type of coaching can translate to how managers at companies work with their teams. You should tailor your approach to each team member. Some are going to require extra attention, while others may prefer more space and autonomy. Your job as a manager is to tailor your style to maximize the potential of each person you work with.

Thanks to Jacob Edwards-Bytom, Made4Fighters!

#14 – Living in the Moment

Image Credit: Daniel Koffler

A lot of things really jumped out at me, but I think most applicable is the concept of applying the Buddhist value of living in the moment. All basketball fans know Phil Jackson as the Zen Master (after watching the doc, my wife also now knows this :)). The way Michael Jordan was able to stay so focused on the task at hand (the title, the season, the game, the possession), particularly considering the noise that never let up in his life both on and off the court, was pretty eye opening. Similarly, CEO's have to contend with any number of challenges and obstacles (both professional and personal), and the ability to identify and focus on the signal through the noise is similarly critical. It's especially relevant considering the fact that no matter how distracted WE (business owners and leaders) may think we are-and I have no doubt they are correct-none of us have the weight that MJ carried!

Thanks to Daniel Koffler,!

#15 – Success for the Moment

Image Credit: Ricardo Mello

You are only a success for the moment you complete a successful act. That was a quote from Phil Jackson during one episode. It was a lesson he learned from Tex Winter and was something that really stood out to me. Winning one championship is hard enough. But it's even more challenging to repeat. Phil Jackson made sure his team understood their past success did not guarantee future results. He didn't want them to become complacent. That's a lesson that I will try to remember as a business owner. You always have to stay hungry and motivated, especially since competitors want to take you down just like other NBA teams wanted to dethrone the Bulls. You can't spend too much time admiring what you've done in the past. You have to live in the moment, continue to work hard, and adapt. I imagine this is why so many companies eventually go out of business. They become satisfied and lose their competitive edge.

Thanks to Ricardo Mello, Manhattan Miami Real Estate!

#16 – You are Still Human and Vulnerable

Image Credit: Eugene Romberg

Growing up, Michael Jordan was the epitome of competitiveness and greatness. One of the quotes that stuck with me after finishing the Last Dance was when Jordan spoke about his return to basketball after a short stint in the MLB. “I was nervous. I hadn't played competitive in a long time. I felt naked because my father wasn't there. What I learned from this is that even in your highest points, even with your perceived greatness from others – that you are still human and are vulnerable to what's happening around you. No matter how great of an entrepreneur or business owner you are, there are times where even the greatest bend the knee towards the uncertainty of life. The one lesson that really struck me to my core about this documentary was that for all the great things MJ accomplished, without his father and family – he became as scared and as vulnerable as we all would. The lesson of humility is what truly spoke out to me, for even the great ones have moments where they feel insignificant. And that’s okay, we all need time to heal, and you should be patient with the process – in order to become great again.

Thanks to Eugene Romberg, We Buy Houses in Bay Area!

#17 – Many Things

Image Credit: Nicole Schmied

(1) Phil Jackson may have coached a winning team, but he treated and mentored each player as the individual that they are, including opposites like, Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. (2) More than once and even during the Finals, Dennis Rodman needed a vacation to getaway from the pressure. Jackson was willing to give it to him even with input from a hesitant team captain, Michael Jordan. Had Jackson been a different coach, the outcome could have been wildly different. He could have benched Rodman. The team could have suffered a game, momentum, and the championship. But instead, Jackson knew his player well enough and made the right call. Instead, letting Dennis return to play proved to the team they could trust Rodman to deliver. (3) Like the Bulls, every business has one organizational goal. But if we don’t account for how we work with, rather, how we serve an individual, we’ve lost the point of business altogether. We were created to serve and solve the customer’s pain point, the very thing that keeps them up at night. When they feel cared for and loved up, that’s when we all achieve a win-win. Whether we're coaching an organization on how to grow attention on social media or an individual on how to grow financially, we try to account for their strengths (and limitations) when we provide solutions. (4) Zig Ziglar said it best, “you can have everything you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” It’s the reason we exist and Phil Jackson serves as a great reminder. Now, if only Jerry Krause could have applied the same lesson in that last year? Maybe championship number seven really could have been heaven.

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Thanks to Nicole Schmied, SmartCookie Media!

#18 – Win at All Costs

Image Credit: Jason Davis

The Last Dance gave an inside look into Michael Jordan and how it's almost impossible to compete against someone who has a single obsessed focus like him. The documentary highlighted how he had a win at all costs mentality and held his teammates to the same standard. He forced them to have the same commitment level that he did. One of my favorite quotes from the documentary was when he said I never asked them to do anything I wasn't willing to do. The lesson I took away from it was to find something you're so passionate about that you're willing to put in all the work it takes in order to be the best.

Thanks to Jason Davis, Inspire360Website!

#19 – Be Uniquely You

Image Credit: Ryan Sagers

Watching The Last Dance was special for me. Since I was little, Michael Jordan has been one of my heroes. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a Jordan poster hanging on my wall as I type this out. I own almost 100 pairs of his sneakers. I love MJ. And I absolutely loved The Last Dance. All that said, I'm quick to recognize that his leadership style isn't my leadership style. The way he communicated with teammates has never been the way I communicate with teammates. His win-at-all-costs mentality is legendary, and I think it's what makes him the GOAT. But I don't believe that's the only path to greatness. I believe positivity, kindness, and empathy can be equally effective tools. I believe that lifting others can be as effective as pushing others. So while I'm grateful to have someone like MJ to look up to, I'm also grateful not to have to be like Mike in order to find success in my own life. Every leader is different. Great results can be produced in many different ways. Find out who you are, and stick to it. Your most likely path to success begins with a decision to be uniquely you.

Thanks Ryan Sagers, EddyHR!

#20 – Take Advantage of the Obvious Opportunities

Image Credit: Forest Richter

I think Jerry Krause was the most interesting character from *The Last Dance*, particularly from a business perspective. On one hand, he built an incredible team. He made some amazing personnel moves that landed him Phil Jackson, Pippen, Rodman, and Kukoc. On the other hand, he needed to have his ego stroked to the point that he let the best coach/player combo in the game walk away to start a rebuild (that failed spectacularly) instead of trying to win again in '99. The business lesson for me is to take advantage of the obvious opportunities. Coming off a second three-peat, Jordan would have gone for a fourth title. Jordan noted that other key players would have signed one-year contracts. Krause didn't take advantage of the obvious opportunity. Krause tried to be proactive and build for the future, which is admirable, but that was looking past the opportunity right in front of him. Its been 20 years and they haven't won another title. In hindsight, maybe letting the G.O.A.T. try for another championship was the obvious choice.

Thanks to Forest Richter, Fresh Coast Labs!

#21 – Diversity is Good for Business

Image Credit: Michael Hammelburger

A great business lesson I learned from ESPN's docu-series is a team's diversity is good for business. Having Dennis Rodman in the 1996 championship team was not a popular decision. But Phil Jackson believed in his guts and the made it critical for the team to ease out the growing tension, learn to be inspired by each other, and seek the goodness of a different team member. And the rest is history. Planning for recovery can never be too early in this time of pandemic. As CEO, I've members of my planning committee with different personalities, views and opinions. But we've learned to use our our differences so we can make a complete turnaround from a sharp downturn brought by this crisis, and we can continue to nurture our relationship with our clients in the long-term.

Thanks to Michael Hammelburger, The Bottom Line Group!

#22 – Brought Teammates Up to a Level

Michael Jordan worked harder and longer than anyone else on the team, period. He looked for weaknesses in his game and tackled them head-on instead of avoiding them. When the Pistons were destroying him and keeping him from scoring, what did he do? He spent the entire off-season bulking up and gaining muscle so he could dominate them the next year. Which he did. Michael Jordan lifted up the game of those around him. He played on such an elite level that in order to make the game work, he brought his teammates up to a level they never would have reached without him by their side. We must do the same thing as business leaders and entrepreneurs. We’ve got to put in more hours than anyone else. We’ve got to find the weaknesses in the company, face them, and bulk up so we can dominate them moving forward. If we continually strive for improvement, our consistent efforts will demand improvement from our employees. They will naturally raise the intensity of their
work ethic to meet us at the bar we’ve raised above them.

Thanks to David Vranicar, FBS Fortified and Ballistic Security!

#23 – Leadership Matured

Image Credit: Christine Tao

I've been watching “The Last Dance”, ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan. With iconic sports figures like Jordan and Kobe it can be easy to equate perfectionism and competitiveness with success. While no one will doubt the fire needed to win, equally important is how his leadership matured. This quote below summarizes so well a lesson the best players and leaders learn over time. That to truly lead a team – you have to go beyond just showing others how it’s done. “From there, Jordan started working more with George Mumford, a sports psychologist and meditation coach with the Bulls, who said, according to Jackson’s book, that Jordan needed to be a better leader. “That means being willing to adjust so that you can meet people where they are, instead of expecting them to be somewhere else and getting angry and trying to will them to that place, you try to meet them where they are and lead them where you want them to go.”

Thanks to Christine Tao, SoundingBoard, Inc!

What business lessons did you learn from the Last Dance? Tell us in the comments below. Don’t forget to join our #IamCEO Community.


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