As an investment firm, one of the core filters we look for in the company we invest, is the management team and the leadership they have exhibited in the past. While companies in its natural existence will invariably go through tough times, it’s the quality of leaders who ensure that the company has the ability to pull through difficult situations.
As an investor, it’s always easy to say, ‘We look for great leaders who display great capital allocation skills’ – who would not? We wanted to take a step further and look at close analogies to make this more repeatable. The recent documentary series “The Last Dance”, gave a perfect opportunity to fit the pieces together on what we look for and the traits any great/aspiring leader would want to possess. For those who have watched the documentary, this article would cover what we thought was our biggest takeaways relatable to an investment firm.
As a kid growing up in the 90s, I was one of the many who was influenced by everything Chicago Bulls as a basketball team did – their season, offseason moves, their player auctions – you name it, I was on top of it. There again, my fascination was more so towards the aura, that Michael Jordan had created. The man used to make the sport look easy, it seemed as though, God had just created someone who could make no wrong move. Many of these notions were dispelled when watching ‘The Last Dance’. It was incredible to see, arguably one of sporting history’s greatest legend, being portrayed as human too, however, what struck me as even more inspiring was the role of Phil Jackson and what he brought to the table as the coach of Chicago Bulls. As a kid, I always wondered the easy job that was bestowed upon Phil Jackson, as the coach of the Bulls – one of the best teams, with the best player to ever play the sport – what else could a coach ask for? Boy !! was I wrong.
Michael Jordan (MJ) was the player he was, because of the environment that Phil Jackson had created for the team. He found ways to push Jordan to make him play at his highest level. When MJ went beyond his boundaries, he was not afraid to kick him out of practice and have honest conversations with him, though MJ was the best the world had seen – the team was always larger than the player, and Phil Jackson found a way to communicate the same to everyone in the team.
Great leaders find a way to establish a common ground with each player in their team.
Dennis Rodman, was one of the most notorious players to have ever played the sport. It’s hard to imagine that he found a way to consistently play for a team. He was an extremely controversial acquisition for the team in 1996, as he came with a lot of baggage and negative press. Phil Jackson found a way to connect with him at a level that went back to Rodman’s roots and childhood, which in turn turned him into one of the key contributors as to why the Bulls won 3 championships from 1996 to 1998. I cannot imagine any sport in history, where a player in the middle of a final walks away to Vegas to gamble and makes his way back to the team to win the championship for them (Yes, Rodman did that and Phil Jackson did not suspend him though there was immense pressure from the media).
Great leaders do not discard rebellious personalities just because they are different, but find a way to make them gel into the team, by giving them their space.
Jackson, was very categorical in ensuring discipline in the team around work ethic, and would maintain a stoic personality to never reprimand his team in public – he would always protect them in public but was a taskmaster on the court. He faced many controversial situations, from Scottie Pippen’s – (MJ’s counterpart) who was getting underpaid – contract negotiations and disputes with great care.
Great leaders do not get caught up in the narrative but get the buy-in of their team and take control of the situation
Jackson encouraged MJ to be unpopular – he realised that to be a great player means one has to pay a price for it. Winning has a price and so does leadership. You have to challenge people when they are down and they have to lead by example. End of the day, you are not looking to be popular but working on doing the right thing for the team in the long term.
Great leaders in the company are judged on the capital allocation decisions they make over the time they run the firm. It’s these decisions, that pay dividend over the long term for a team alongside the culture they bring within the team, which puts the focus on individual ownership. Phil Jackson, again demonstrated this when he looked at success as a living, breathing thing – rather than just a moment.
Finally, MJ created and endured the destiny of the Bulls by carrying the team towards 6 championships, but it was Phil Jackson who was the glue who created the environment around which this happened. Fittingly so, the entire team decided to call it quits when Phil Jackson was terminated as the coach of the Bulls.
It’s these leaders we are constantly in search of when we are looking at our investment decisions.
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