Michael Jordan, Defensive All-Star — A Business Lesson For Us All

Stay with me a few minutes on this — there is a critical business lesson coming.

Let me tell you a story that explains the true greatness of the basketball legend Michael Jordan.  First, some reminders (from Wikipedia):

His biography on the National Basketball Association (NBA) website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”

Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-Star Game MVP awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press‘s list of athletes of the century. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on April 6, 2009 and was inducted on September 11, 2009.

Now here’s the story that made him basically superhuman.  There was never any doubt, as he played through college, that he was going to be a scoring machine.  And, over the course of his career, though he is third on the total points scored list, he has the highest scoring average in the history of the NBA, just barely beating the average of Wilt Chamberlain.

The all-time playoff leader in scoring average, Jordan was also one of the all-time defensive greats. The nine-time first-team All-Defense selection wreaked havoc on playoff foes with his intensity. His steal of Karl Malone late in Game 6 of the '98 Finals, which set up his game-winning jumper, is one of the most memorable plays in NBA history. (from Sports Illustrated).

But — and this is the basis for the key business lesson — he knew that his game lacked a critical element, and early on he set out to become an exceptional defensive player as well as a scoring machine.  He did not give this a little bit of effort, but he made it his passion.  And his record demonstrates the heights he reached in this personal challenge:  nine All-Defensive First Team honors… the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Think about this – Michael Jordan was wildly popular, a true scoring machine, and he could have “coasted” on that set of skills for his entire career.  What did he do?  He did not cut back on his emphasis in scoring, but he added the defensive element, requiring massive numbers of hours and intense focus.  It was remarkable!/superhuman!/something above what mere mortals can barely fathom.

So – here is the business lesson. Think about what you are best at.  You love it.  It feels like it comes “naturally” to you.  You read about it, you “reinforce” your already hefty prowess, and you are always reading and talking about how to get even better in this particular area of your success.  As you should.  Be proud of this expertise, and keep growing and learning in this very area.

But what should you add?

Very few people tackle this imposing challenge.  It is the difference between some success and much more success.

If you are like me, you simply hate tackling an area that you are not as good at, an area that does not come “naturally” to you.  You don’t want to read about it, talk about it, think about it.  If your boss sends you to training in this area, you might resent the boss, and be an unwilling, unenthusiastic participant.  You have your area of expertise, your area of interest – that is enough.

And it is enough.  BUT… if you could tackle an area of weakness, one that you find tough to tackle, and really work to turn that into a strength, you could attain a higher level of influence and success.

The business lesson is simple:  yes, continue your pursuit of greater mastery and excellence at what you are already good at — but get good in areas where you have genuine weakness and deficiency.

Now I have a bias – reading is one way to start getting better at something.  A good book will help you know what to think, what to work on…

So here is a starting place.  Take a look at this chart (it’s from this earlier blog post).  Chances are one of these areas is an area of strength, but another area or two is an area of weakness.  Pick an area of weakness.  Read a book in this area as your next to do.  Tackle your weak area, focus, and turn that weakness and deficiency into a strength.

Take this challenge seriously, do the necessary work, and you will become more effective, more successful, more valuable to your company, your people, and, yourself.

Good luck.  Here’s the chart.

A Strategic Business Book Reading Plan

If you need to: Then you might want to read:
Aim higher – personally The Other 90%
Think/work like an athlete in training OutliersTalent is Overrated
Think like an innovator The Creative HabitThe Art of Innovation
Get better at time management Getting Things DoneThe Power of Full Engagement
Become a better servant leader Servant Leadership
Nurture and build your people Encouraging the Heart
Market more effectively Waiting For Your Cat to BarkThe Tipping Point

The Long Tail

Get better connected WikinomicsGroundswell
Network more effectively Never Eat Alone
Communicate more effectively Words that WorkMade to Stick
Be a (very good) generalist Reality Check
Negotiate more effectively Women Don’t AskAsk for It
Play well with others The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Learn to learn The Opposable Mind
Learn to tell the truth Crucial ConversationsWinning

One thought on “Michael Jordan, Defensive All-Star — A Business Lesson For Us All

  1. I knew that Dean Smith played a critical role in Jordan’s development as a defensive player. Thanks for this reminder.

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