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The Last Dance: A Three-Pointer in Leadership

July 29, 2020

The author is the Head of Investor Relations (Asia & Middle East) for B Capital Group

The Last Dance is an incredible series exploring Michael Jordan’s sixth (and final) NBA championship, in 1998. I developed an absolute obsession with it. The show is filled with life lessons not just for basketball fanatics, but for anyone who wants to build something great! While the connection between the greatest NBA player of all time and the world of Venture Capital may not be obvious, I saw some very clear takeaways that are relevant to anyone in our industry, or anyone who is looking for ways to perform, collaborate and lead better. I have a huge passion for leadership and personal development, and these are some of the takeaways that really resonated with me:

Learn To Develop Trust

Michael Jordan’s early career was marked by personal success and individual accolades. Yet, he played for six seasons without winning a single championship.

Ultimately, Jordan realized that achieving team triumph was the only way he would be considered the greatest NBA player of all time.

It takes a lot to start playing as a team when you are inherently dominant and have the need to control outcomes. It was commendable how Jordan evolved to let his guard down. When he started trusting his teammates at crucial moments, magic happened. It was beautiful to see how the trinity of Jordan, Pippen and Rodman transpired. But my favourite moment was when Jordan passed the ball to Steve Kerr in the last second of the 1997 NBA Finals. When he put his faith in Kerr, the unsung hero made the championship winning shot!

This reminds me of our Investor Relations (“IR”) team and how we have worked to build trust and camaraderie with each other. I have never had the pleasure of meeting my U.S. counterpart (based in San Francisco), who joined us during the start of the year, face-to-face due to COVID-related travel restrictions. Yet, as a global IR team, we are continuously ‘passing the ball’ to each other as we work across time zones and serve our investor base in different parts of the world. Trust is intrinsic to what we do.

So, how did we make it work? I think it was ability to let our guard down, and to be open and vulnerable with each other from the get-go. Our first official catch up call lasted two hours and was packed with authentic sharing about who we are as individuals and as professionals. Perhaps a topic for my next post, but building virtual trust might be more feasible than we think.

Accommodate Peculiarities of People

Coach Phil Jackson was a genius at accommodating eccentricities of different players. He allowed Dennis Rodman, the team’s best rebounder and on-ball defender, to go on “vacation” in Vegas in the middle of the postseason. Why? Because he needed to blow off steam. Jackson knew he needed to give him room in order to get the best out of him. He was right. When Rodman came back, he set the court on fire on game day.

The Last Dance is a powerful reminder that leadership is not about developing an army of perfect individuals. It allows for mavericks and flaws, and celebrates diversity. I am extremely fortunate that in my professional life, my managers have known exactly how to get more out of me. That means knowing that I excel in an environment of freedom and out-of-box thinking. This flexibility allows me to think big and be creative in terms of achieving outcomes.

Repeatable Success Equals Constant Drive for Improvement

“You are only a success for the moment you complete a successful act.”

I have not been able to get this quote by Phil Jackson out of my head.

My father has always taught me never to let one successful outcome lead you to believe you are a success. Drop the ego and don’t let it get to your head. What matters is if you can do it again or even better the next time.

The Last Dance is a representation of how real success is about consistency — arguably Jordan’s most impressive quality. The ability to lead his team to win six championships with two three-peats is unlike anything we have seen in the modern NBA.

I believe that to achieve this level of consistency requires radical self-awareness and a constant drive to get better at what you already do well. An important aspect of this in IR for instance is the openness to do a post-mortem of what we can do better the next time, even if the fundraise is a success.

I think as humans, we have the tendency to grow complacent or satisfied with the status quo when things are working for us. Many of us are guilty of that. A crucial element of Jordan’s ascendancy was that that he remained accountable for up-leveling his game. Consistently. Albeit one of the hardest things to do, I am convinced that commitment and attitude towards improvement is what separates the great from good.

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