Why Michael Jordan Proves Passion Must Precede Leadership

Michael Jordan's passion for winning, not his love of basketball, drove his leadership style.
Why Michael Jordan Proves Passion Must Precede Leadership
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Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
Founder of Meaningful Doc
5 min read
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As an ‘80s kid growing up in West Michigan, it’s not surprising that I was a fan of the Chicago Bulls. It seemed like everyone in the world was. For us West Michiganders, the Pistons were all the way in Detroit, all the way on the other side of the state. Chicago was literally just around the corner. We liked the Pistons too, but the Bulls were just so much more exciting. They were a worldwide phenomenon. Who didn’t like Michael Jordan? What kid didn’t want to “Be Like Mike”? I didn’t know any.

On the heels of the success of ESPN’s documentary, The Last Dance, The NBA recently announced a 10-part podcast, Beyond The Last Dance, which I’m sure will provide us with more entertaining commentary about basketball in the ‘90s. As I viewed the documentary, it was so interesting to learn more about the star players I grew up watching and recognized from my old basketball cards.

Related: 8 Leadership Lessons From ESPN's Documentary, 'The Last Dance'

Michael Jordan's career is a case study in success

As a kid, I collected basketball cards. There wasn’t much that compared to the excitement of opening up one of those foil-wrapped pouches to see if you were lucky enough to get a Michael Jordan card. I was lucky enough to get a few.

My favorite was the 1988-89 Fleer Super Star Sticker Number Seven Michael Jordan card. I used to peel the corner of it to make sure that it really was indeed a sticker. It was. About halfway through watching The Last Dance I felt inspired to find my old basketball card collection. The sticker card was still there. A quick eBay search showed my card was worth about $1.66, as it is not in the greatest condition from my childhood self frequently peeling the corner. I’m sure you can imagine the amount of willpower that it took for my 9-year-old self to not peel and stick that card to anything. For $1.66 I wish that I would have. I would have looked so cool with it stuck to my dinosaur pencil box or Ninja Turtles lunch box.

Related: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Be Relentless Like Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan's true passion is winning

If The Last Dance taught me one thing, it was that Michael Jordan was passionate about winning, and not necessarily basketball. His method to achieve his passion of winning happened to be basketball (or baseball, for 13 months). Michael Jordan had the skill and natural ability to play basketball which he honed over countless hours of practice, and that became his method to achieve his passion of winning. Skill is one thing, but passion is completely another. He wasn’t passionate about basketball because he was skillful at it. His passion was winning. 

To win a team sport, you obviously need a team. So how did Michael Jordan go about developing his team to be winners? The answer is leadership. He started first with passion, and then developed excellent leadership skills to fulfill that passion. If your passion is winning, and the way you wish to win is by playing basketball, you must become a leader on your team. You must train, coach, and continuously push your teammates to be the best they can be so that you can win.

Related: Michael Jordan's Top 7 Rules for Success

Passion must come before leadership

Anything can happen if you are willing to put in the work and remain open to the possibility. Dreams are realized by effort, determination, passion and staying connected to that sense of who you are. — Michael Jordan

If you’re a doctor, as I am, and your passion is to improve the health of your patients and community, then you read up on the latest and best treatments. Your goal is to become an expert in your field so that you can provide the best care possible. You become a leader in your specialty, profession, clinic, and hospital. You lead your patients by educating them, treating them, and improving their health.

Can you have leadership without passion? Yes, but what would be the point? What is the point of leadership just for leadership’s sake? Leadership without passion is like a brokenhearted lover, as David Gates, of the group Bread, wrote, “…as helpless as a ship without a wheel, a touch without a feel…” You can’t get where you’re going because you don’t know where your destination is, the goal you’re trying to achieve, or the reason you’re even trying. Passion provides the direction, goals, and the “why.” Leadership provides the “how.”

A leader cannot effectively lead anyone unless there is passion driving their success. Passion provides the foundation for effective leadership. Without passion, leadership is futile.

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