#23 – MJ

In order to properly commemorate our 23rd blog post at SchermCo, it only felt right to center it around the greatest athlete to ever wear #23: Michael Jordan.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first:

  • My Dad loved MJ when I was a kid. Naturally, I decided that Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic would soon overtake the Chicago Bulls. That didn’t work. As I got older, I grew more interested in MJ and his work ethic.
  • I don’t want to hear anything from the LeBron crowd. I love me some LeBron, but MJ was first.
  • MJ – If you’re reading this, let’s do lunch. If someone knows MJ, tell him I’m buying lunch.

Anyway, here we go.

My fascination with MJ has only grown over the years. I’ve read a number of books about him (see below for my favs) in hopes of isolating what makes him tick.

Thus, this post is about the 6 characteristics I think made MJ great and how we might be able to apply them to education (or just our day to day lives).

Why 6?

6 rings! Come on now.

MJ’s 6 Characteristics

1. Compete

MJ is widely known for this competitive streak. He often credits his love of competition to his family and growing up with siblings around the same age. Whether it was sports or grades, all of his siblings were competing to the best.

There are multiple examples of his competitive streak throughout MJ’s career. Perhaps one of the lesser-known examples is about a time when MJ was a rookie in the NBA. During practice, the team would often scrimmage towards the end of practice and MJ’s team would invariably always be winning. At one point, in a game to 10, MJ’s team was up 7-0. Then, the coach called a time-out and put MJ on the team that was losing. MJ’s new team won that scrimmage 10-7.

Application to Education

Depending on whom you’re speaking with, the word “compete” can have a negative connotation in education. We believe, when students and staff are supported in the right way, schools and education leaders can introduce notions like competition to drive outcomes for students.

Education is not a zero-sum game. Every child in a school can earn an A or pass a standardized exam. Every school in a city can receive a top-rating

2. Energy

There are infamous stories about how MJ would challenge teammates to all night card games only to win and then be the first to the gym the next morning. Often, not only was he first at the gym the next day but usually there longer than others. There are even more stories detailing that MJ would play a full round of golf before games only to inevitably still lead his team to victory. Outside of his drive and competitiveness, teammates often cited that he seemed to have a limitless supply of energy.

Application to Education

There’s frankly no easy way for a school leader or teacher to just “get more energy”. However, leaders in any organization can build buy-in and create levels of support within their organization. Again, not easy to make a clean connection but we can all be better with a bit more energy (dare I say, hustle?).

3. Constant Improvement

MJ clearly entered the NBA with a skill-set to score and win games. As he began to have more success he was met with criticism. Commentators and fellow competitors would say he’s too flashy or shoots too much. MJ listened and responded.

He was almost surgical with how he added one move after another to his game until he was a complete player. From shooting to physical strength, and even defense, MJ is now considered one of the most complete players to ever touch a basketball. To emphasize this point, MJ is 4th on the all-time NBA scoring list AND was named to the NBA All-Defensive team 9 times.

Application to Education
Constant improvement is critical to leaders in any field, especially education. Creating an organization that supports the improvement of students and staff is essential in education. We can always get better, regardless of our last interim assessments or annual review. What does constant improvement look like in your organization?

4. Accountability
MJ was always accountable to himself and his team regardless of the success they experienced. Whether he was hurt or just dropped 50 points the night before, MJ was at practice the next morning working to improve, working to get better.

There’s a story that his trainer, Tim Grover, often mentions. After each game, regardless of the outcome, travel schedule or anything else, Tim would ask MJ “5 or 6?”. MJ would choose a number and they’d meet at that time the following morning for their workout.

Application to Education
Again, the word accountability can have many meanings in education. School accountability? Teacher accountability? At the end of the day, being accountable is about being responsible for the students and staff you’re serving. Regardless of any outside forces or factors, we can create thriving environments for students and staff when we’re all more accountable to each other.

5. High Expectations
Related to being accountable, MJ had incredibly high expectations for himself but also those around him. There are countless stories about how he’d push his teammates and coaches to always get better. MJ knew that he would set the example but also believed that others needed to follow his lead – or he’d help get them there.

Application to Education
It’s one thing to hold yourself and teammates accountable, but another to make sure your expectations are only getting higher. It almost goes back to the notion of constant improvement but for your entire organization.
What are the expectations for your students? Could they be higher?
What are the expectations for your staff? Could they be higher?
Set the example and help get them there.

6. Mindset
Perhaps the most important characteristic of MJ was his mindset. I can use words here like hustling, belief, or other descriptors but they would fall short. Perhaps it’s a combination of such descriptors that formed his mindset, or maybe it was the other way around.

Regardless, he knew and was determined to be the best at whatever he touched. His daily actions then aligned with his mindset; day after day, year after year, until he had his 6 rings.

Application to Education
I believe we can always improve our mindset, especially in education.
What do we believe about our team and ourselves?
What do we believe about the students and families we serve?
Do our daily actions align with the thoughts and beliefs in our head?
Rings, winning, and the notions of championships take a different form in education. Yet, we know we need more of them.

Action Step

  • Be like Mike. It could be good for the kids.
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