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The Power of Michael Jordan in Context: Four Lessons on Teamwork the Business World Can Learn from "His Airness"

Bruce Piasecki invites business leaders to consider not just the basketball giant's talents, but how the teams on which he played allowed them to shine

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y., Feb. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- It's hard to believe, but the great Michael Jordan recently turned 50. Bruce Piasecki is a big fan. Yet what interests him is not Jordan's sheer athleticism and many victories, but what Jordan in context can teach the business world about teamwork.

"To me, Michael Jordan's career is a shining example of how the best teams operate," says Piasecki, author of the upcoming book Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning (Wiley, March 2013, ISBN: 978-1-1184849-5-1, $25.00, www.brucepiasecki.com). "I've long believed that the team is more powerful than the individual—even when that individual is someone as immensely talented as Jordan."

People who may not be able to succeed alone—the planners, the doers, those who lack the internal spark to market themselves—can find success in the context of teams, says Piasecki.

"It was pure pleasure to watch how Michael Jordan fit his court family, which was deep and full of different personalities like the quiet Scottie Pippen and the very outrageous Dennis Rodman," he says. "The beauty of this team was that its members worked together in a way that allowed everyone to learn together where they fit while working for the common good."

Similar dynamics play out on business world "courts" every day. And when teams have the right mix of talents and personalities—and are governed by the right "captains"—companies achieve, grow, and prosper. In a global economy, whose complexity demands fast results and a broad range of skills, great teams matter more than ever.

Piasecki offers four lessons on teamwork:

Fierce individualism has no place in teams. We don't think of the Chicago Bulls as "Michael Jordan's team" despite Jordan's superstardom. Contrast this with, for example, our propensity to use the phrase "Lance Armstrong's teams"—as if the disgraced cyclist's teammates were there only for him. When we pin all our hopes on a single individual and ignore the context in which he or she operates, we will be disappointed.

"Youth and ability have a way of fading over time," says Piasecki. "We need the shoulder strength of teams to keep us competent."

Ceaseless victory is a fantasy. Teams must keep a healthy sense of perspective. Michael Jordan was quoted as saying, "To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail." Piasecki agrees. "Leaders must instill in teams a tolerance of losing," he says. "We must convey that failure is a part of life and thus a part of business." 

He says leaders must not punish teams who give it their best shot, yet fall short of victory. Only through loss can we grow and improve.

Great teams revel in the pleasure of persistence and the sheer thrill of striving. Jordan is quoted as saying, "I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." Obviously "trying" is a virtue, but Piasecki says it's more than that: It's a source of satisfaction. Once we've accepted that defeat is a part of the journey, there is great fun—yes, fun—in knowing that we will stumble and fall from time to time, yet get up, and try again, with some success. Accepting our imperfection takes the pressure off.

The right "captains" can help us build powerful teams. Would Michael Jordan and his teammates have been so successful without UNC's Dean Smith, the Chicago Bulls' Phil Jackson, and all the other "captains" who played a role? Doubtful. It takes a certain type of leader to create not just a loose affiliation of fierce individualists but a true team.

Piasecki says a captain is someone who can rapidly recognize the key capabilities of their team members, for good and for bad. "Captains also treat their team members with a kind of fierce immediacy, and they achieve team coherence and team integrity in the process," Piasecki says. "Captains do not take the time to—as I heard from several military sources—'wait for solutions.' Instead, 'they seek possible solutions and test them on the fly.'"

"Invest in your captains," Piasecki concludes. "Choose them well and use them wisely. Along the way they will empower your people to extend their wings and soar—yes, much like Michael Jordan himself—in the magic that only teams can generate."

About the Author:
Dr. Bruce Piasecki is the author of Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning (Wiley, March 2013, ISBN: 978-1-1184849-5-1, $25.00, www.brucepiasecki.com).

Click here for an expanded version of this release.

SOURCE Dr. Bruce Piasecki

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