Intensity is a word I remember being drilled into my head – into my body – as a basketball player. And then I turned around and used it again on my players as a coach. Intensity. That’s what we are all here for. Giving it your all. Leaving everything on the floor. What are you doing if you’re not living, playing, working, loving intensely?
Growing up as a young basketball player in the early 1990’s I was inspired by watching arguably the greatest team of all time – the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls – 6 time NBA champions.
I’ve been reliving some of those legendary times by watching the new ESPN series, “The Last Dance” that chronicles the players and games of the Bulls during this stretch. Love him or hate him, it has struck me again and again just how incredible a leader Michael Jordan was for his team. And that’s part of the reason he was such a good leader – love him or hate him – he was okay with your perception either way, so long as you were giving it your all. At one point in the series, an interviewer asks Jordan if his intensity got in the way of him being perceived as a “nice guy.” To me, Jordan’s response is precisely the kind of answer I would want to hear from any person I was calling a leader:
“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. [ ] You ask all my teammates. The one thing about Michael Jordan was he never asked me to do something that he didn’t f—ing do.”
Jorden embodied intensity. He saw the potential in his teammates and pushed them. He didn’t settle for good enough. He wasn’t trying to win the nice guy competition. He was trying to squeeze the very best out of everyone that was around him. And that started, importantly, with himself.
How would your team look different if instead of focusing on how much they liked you, you focused exclusively on how you, as a leader, could push them all to be their best? To pull them when they didn’t want to be pulled and challenge them when they didn’t want to be challenged – starting first, with yourself. You may not be able to dunk from the foul line, but there are plenty of other opportunities to “be like Mike.” Embrace the intensity of what it means to be a leader.