The Last Dance: What Jordan taught us about leadership

By Marianne Renner, Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

I don’t know about you, but I was glued to the TV right from the very first episode! I couldn’t get enough of The Last Dance, the documentary about the iconic 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

I’m not typically a binge-watcher. Nor am I much of a sports fan (even with 6 sports-loving brothers).

But hailing from the Chicago suburbs, I remember those Michael Jordan years. Who on earth doesn’t?

The documentary has been igniting fires of inspiration under anyone who watches, including me.

We’ve been talking about it in my online leadership community, Chaos to Clarity (Facebook/Groups/MoveFromChaosToClarity)

Leaders in the Chaos to Clarity community are using words to describe the rock star team like “commitment, dedication, hard work, and perseverance.”

When I watch those clips of Michael Jordan and his super-human ability to fly like Superman, my mouth drops wide open.

Days after finishing the series, I’m still reveling in the leadership and life lessons found in the team’s success.


This game’s not over!

Some of my favorite scenes are from early episodes when Michael Jordan talks about joining the Bulls way back in 1984. He finds his way onto the sub-par team as a rookie where he is treated like a nobody.

Jordan recalls, “we would be losing in the fourth quarter and they’d start saying, ‘well, there’s always next game.’”

“I’d say, wait a minute, this game’s not over!”


Don’t give up

How many times have you given up in the 4th quarter? You tried to start a new business. You dreamed of changing careers. You tried to improve your most important relationships.

But the odds were stacked against you, and the clock seemed to be running out. So you shifted your focus  to something else.

Jordan kept his eye on what was possible. He maintained his focus. He didn’t lose faith that anything was possible. He fought until the game was over.

Little by little, the team began to win.


Influence without position

Oftentimes people come to me and say, “but Marianne, I’m not a leader. I don’t have a team of people who report to me.”

Leadership is not defined by your title or position. It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset. Leadership is your approach to life.

Some of leadership’s greatest challenges come when there is no leadership position.

Perhaps you’re managing a complex project with stakeholders who don’t report to you.

Maybe you sit on a board in which every leader is on equal footing, and there is no chain of command.

These are the times when your leadership is truly tested. Why? Because no one’s watching. No one’s relying on you at the top. You can take the easy road, and no one would notice. You can go along with the crowd.


“I didn’t have a voice.”

Jordan goes on to say in his interview, “I was a rookie. I didn’t have a voice. So, I had to show them with my actions.”

Jordan’s leadership of that 1984 team didn’t come as a team captain or experienced player that everyone looked up to for guidance or inspiration. Even as a rookie, he demonstrated leadership with his beliefs and actions.

He had the mindset of a leader. He spoke words of a leader. He chose not to give up. He chose to have faith right until the very end that the team could win.


Lead with integrity.

What stuck me as I watched those early episodes was that Jordan led with integrity right from the beginning.

Integrity literally comes from the word integrated. Integrity takes shape when your inner beliefs and values integrate with your outer words and actions. Everything aligns. Everything integrates.

Jordan led with integrity. He believed the team could win. He acted as such, even though he was the new kid – the guy who didn’t fit in.


How’s your game in the 4th quarter?

Does it feel like you’re losing in the fourth quarter? Does your game have you tired and feeling defeated? Don’t lose focus. Don’t give up.

Don’t start looking away from what’s in front of you.

This game’s not over!

Here are 5 traits  you can use to lead your team.

Check out my TED talk to see how I utilized these techniques to lead my junior olympics team to GOLD!

4 replies
  1. Omar Ordaz
    Omar Ordaz says:

    Great great summary of not giving up Marianne! I truly needed this reminder today; sometimes we tend to look at the set setbacks as the definition of our success, but now that I’ve read your article I’ll keep fighting until the game’s over!

  2. Zaida
    Zaida says:

    Great perspective, Marianne! Michael Jordan certainly had a great mindset which is obvious not only on the court but his personal life also!

    • Marianne Renner
      Marianne Renner says:

      Yes Zaida, so true! It was fun to watch him during those days. Whether dealing with the team or the media, he demonstrated character we can emulate.


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