Doing Your Part: Career Lessons Learned From “The Last Dance”

June 17, 2020 Edward

It’s been about a month since ESPN’s “The Last Dance” took the world by storm. The 10-part documentary, which chronicled the rise of the Chicago Bulls from irrelevance in the early 80s to becoming one of the most recognized franchises in all of sports, had fans captivated and glued to their couches every Sunday night. As much as the 5-week special was about the life of living legend Michael Jordan and his rise to greatness, the documentary did a great job of highlighting one thing: he didn’t do it alone. Don’t get us wrong and it goes without saying, Jordan is in a class of his own. However, to be on a successful team, whether on a court or in an office, everyone has to do the part. 

Build the right team

We all can’t be a Michael Jordan. We may want to, but it’s not always possible.  That’s just how it is. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be as effective and essential to our teams. If you’re a manager, why not be a Jerry Krause or a Phil Jackson? Krause, the Bulls’ General Manager who built the teams, was seen as a villain of sorts throughout the documentary but was great at his job. He drafted the right players, made the right trades, and (occasionally) extended the right contracts. As a manager, you’re not only in charge of overseeing your team, but you’re also responsible for ensuring that you have the right players on your team in the first place. Bringing in professionals that will give the company 100% at all times to their job is vital, as is making the tough decisions to make personnel changes to benefit the team. 

Set up a game plan

If you want to be a Phil Jackson, then it’s all about the Xs and Os. The “Zen Master” himself, Jackson was a genius when putting together plays for his teams. Using the infamous “triangle offense”, he created gameplans that would not only expose the other team’s weaknesses but highlight and emphasize his team’s advantages. As a Jackson-like manager, you have to put your employees in the right positions to excel as individuals, but also as a cohesive unit. Observing and monitoring each employee’s work ethic and efficiency is key. You might have an employee who, while good at the job, has been doing it the same way for the last few years. If there’s a way for their work to be done more effectively and compliment the team as a whole, tweak it accordingly. The thing about the triangle offense is that no matter where you’re positioned on the court, you’re in a spot where you can help your team score. As a manager, don’t be afraid to make those adjustments as needed, whether they’re big or small. The end goal is always to win.

Step out of the (comfort) zone and adapt

You can’t mention Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman’s coming up at some point. That’s because they were just as vital to the team’s success as His Airness. Scottie Pippen, one of the 50 greatest players to ever play the game and Jordan’s “sidekick”, was a superstar of versatility. He’d fill up the stat sheet, set the tone of the game with his energy and defense, and even take over games when needed. To be a Pippen-like employee is to be a renaissance person.  If your manager presents a new project for the team, jump at the opportunity to be a part of it. If your coworker is falling a bit behind on a certain task, offer to help them get over the hump. As long as your work isn’t negatively affected, you can never have your hand in too many honey jars, especially if it benefits the team. One thing about Pippen is that he was never afraid to play out of position. He could play point guard some games and defend a power forward the next. As an employee, good work never goes unnoticed, but it’s your flexibility and adaptability to the work as it changes day in and day out that gets remembered. 

Bounce back from adversity

You can take the other route and be the Dennis Rodman of your office. Now your mind might wander to what that entails considering the outlandish reputation that precedes the Hall of Fame power forward. But let’s remember one thing about Rodman: there was no one better at getting their job done than him. Despite the controversy, Rodman was hardworking, efficient, and extremely loyal. If there are any three qualities a manager wants out of their employee, it’s that right there. To be a Rodman is to be fearless. Take on the tasks that others are afraid of doing. Dive headfirst into a project and don’t come up for air until it’s finished. Think outside of the box, be eccentric, and extremely creative. If that means coming into the office with a new hair color every week, so be it (Please check your company’s hair guidelines before doing so)! The thing that excused Rodman’s off-court antics was his ability to put that to the back burner when he stepped on the court. Those distractions didn’t matter because, for those 48 minutes, it was all about the team. Be the catalyst. Be the game-changer. Be Rodman. 

Always be ready to step up

On a team full of personalities and legends, one might forget a Horace Grant. A Steve Kerr. A Toni Kukoc. A John Paxton. The list goes on. But if you watched that documentary, you know that they were as important to those championship dynasties as anyone. Kerr and Paxton even hit championship-winning shots. That’s because, on a team, everyone matters. If you’re new to a team at work or haven’t been there as long as others, it does not mean your role is minuscule or trivial. It just means you haven’t been tasked to hit a game-winner yet. A good team is a well-oiled machine and every gear and piece has to do their part to ensure that they get from point A to point B. Your job right now might just be doing the little things, but sooner or later it’s going to be your time to step up to the big stage. Whether you’re on the sidelines or running alongside the featured stars, be ready. Because at the end of the day, let’s face it: no one is Michael Jordan. But together, you can be the Bulls. 

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