Leadership lessons from The Chicago Bulls’ “Last Dance”

What we can learn from the dynamics of the greatest basketball team

Lee Anderson

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The New York Times Magazine cover with the Chicago Bulls team. “The best. Ever. Anywhere.”

It’s a story of growth, both personal and collective, from one superstar operating independent of the other dozen players, to a team of synchronized collaborators.

The team values of the 1990s Chicago Bulls are legendary not just in theory, but because they won. Again and again. I watched the docuseries “The Last Dance” for a second time with this specifically in mind, to surface some of the key leadership lessons (some learned the hard way) that can be applied off the court.

The bulls celebrating their first championship win in the locker room.

The timeless attributes and tactics outlined below were tested under high stakes, intense pressure, and at the most elite level of performance.

1. Becoming and being the best

“I want to be the best player to ever play here.” —MJ

“Well, you’re going to have to work harder than you did in high school.”—Asst. Coach Roy Williams, Chapel Hill

“I worked just as hard as everybody else.”—MJ

“I thought you wanted to be the best player that ever played here.”—RW

“I’m going to show you — nobody will ever work as hard as I’ll work.”

Arriving in Chicago, Jordan has already learned a lot about growth, improvement, and hard work, and he makes his intentions on the Bulls clear. He wants to be part of a championship team.

What starts as Michael’s journey to becoming the best player, becomes a journey for the Bulls to become the best team. It’s one thing to make that decision for yourself, but to get everyone around you to want it, believe it’s possible, and commit to that goal is a different feat.

What he had learned about becoming the best at Chapel Hill became his pathfinder in Chicago. He had to earn his stripes. Looking for the team leader on the team, he’s going after him. “I’m not going to do it with my voice because I have no voice. I’m going to do it with the way that I play.”

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Lee Anderson

Design strategist, researcher & educator. 🔎 sustainable future through design science collaboration & new business models. 📚 @SDSParsons . Also @faarfutures