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There are so many definitions of leadership.

Leadership is about getting people to follow you.

Leadership is about being a coach.

Leadership is not about titles.

And many more.

But, I think the best way to understand leadership is to watch it happen.

During the summer of 2020, I did just that.

The Netflix documentary mini-series on Michael Jordan’s rise as a leader of the Chicago Bulls franchise is a fascinating window into how leadership is born.

I was in high school (and college) during the period covered by the film. 

I am a geek and have never been an avid sports fan. I did track for a short stint in high school.

When my friends watched the NBA games, I usually read a book, worked on some new computer program on my PC, or helped my mom with cooking for the family. 

When it was playoffs time, though, I was right there with the rest of the world watching Michael Jordan perform his superhuman feats with his tongue wagging the whole way. 

At the time, what I saw was an American icon in the making. What I didn’t realize was watching the birth of a leader. 

Michael Jordan probably didn’t know he had had it in him—the ability to lead. He did know he’d be coached by a person—Phil Knight— who would teach him how to become a team player. 

(Btw, I know Phil Jackson coached the Bulls.  I just wanted to show you how much of a geek I am. Knight did become a mentor for Jordan.)

But that is precisely what happened. Through much loss—both personal and professional— Michael grew to understand what it meant to be a leader. 

He learned with much sacrifice what it means to win. 

 “Winning has a price. And leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. And I earned that right … Once you join the team, you live at a certain standard that I play the game (at), and I wasn’t going to take anything less … I wanted to win, but I wanted them to be a part of it as well.” — Michael Jordan in The Last Dance.

As I watched the series, I took copious notes to discover that moment when Michael and his teammates transformed into leaders.

There were many parallels with my own experience as an entrepreneur and a CEO of a fast-moving company.

One thing that was clear as the Chicago Bulls team experienced challenges, setbacks, and defeats, they grew.  

Each person found their place. They used their mistakes to learn and conquer the next challenge. They supported each other. They applied the right amount of pressure at the right time. And they drove themselves to become the best in the world

Here are my raw notes on leadership and entrepreneurial lessons from the documentary:

  • Never lose focus
  • Strive for perfection
  • Pursuit of excellence 
  • Stay at the top of your game
  • Be present
  • Give it your all—always
  • Learn from your failures and use them to drive your growth 
  • Push your team to grow, serve them
  • Invest in your health
  • Never ever give up 
  • It’s not about you; it’s about the team
  • You have to perform under pressure 
  • Grow beyond your raw ability to become a great thinker – strategic
  • Show compassion and empathy for others
  • Start with hope and play with passion
  • Be thankful for the past and always enjoy the moment 
  • Use your underdog status to propel your success
  • All you need is one little match to start the fire 

I read them periodically to remind me how leadership works.

I leave you with this quote from Michael when he first joined the team. A reporter asks him what he hopes to accomplish as a rookie with the Chicago Bulls.

“I just want the franchise in Chicago Bulls to be respected like the Lakers or the Philadelphia 76ers it the Boston Celtics. Hopefully, this team and this organization can build a program like that.”

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About the Author: John Belizaire

John is a versatile CEO and serial entrepreneur who has successfully founded, scaled multiple technology companies over a 20-year career. He is currently the CEO of Soluna, a company helping to shape the future of renewable energy and computing. Before Soluna, John was the founder and CEO of FirstBest, a transformative insurance software company acquired by Guidewire Software and Theory Center, an e-commerce software company acquired by BEA Systems. Before becoming an entrepreneur, John was the lead architect for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. John is on the advisory board of several software-as-a-service, data analytics, and insurtech startups. He is the Managing Editor of CEOPLAYBOOK Media LLC, an online publication full of sage advice for first-time founder CEOs. John is also a trustee of Harlem Academy, an independent school in New York.