Lessons From Michael Jordan and "The Last Dance"

If you’ve read my BLArticles® or books, you know I’ve never liked the word “nervous.” It’s a useless word to me because I’ve never known anyone who performed better when nervous.  I’m actually a fan of the word, “anxious.”  Now, there’s a word I can get behind.  When you are under pressure, and you’re anxious, you can channel that anxiety into energy.  Strangely enough, the only time I find myself feeling a bit nervous is when I’m not anxious.

Think about tasks you perform within your profession, and think about the times you performed them for the very first time.  I’m willing to bet you were a tad anxious, but I’m also willing to bet that unconsciously, you directed that anxiety into focus.  The more comfortable you became performing those tasks, unknowingly, the more susceptible you were to performing those tasks in a less than focused manner.  The fact is this:

When we learn how to do our jobs well, we don’t have to worry about being nervous. We have to worry about being flat.

When you have something at stake, you’ll find the motivation to perform at your best.  For some, it’s money.  For others, its reputation.  For me, it’s pride.   Whatever it is, don’t shy away from the pressure of having something at stake; seek it out.

In the recent ten-part documentary, “The Last Dance,” there is a repeated theme centering around Michael Jordon searching for ideas to motivate him.  Once, he claimed an opponent disrespected him, and then he had a rather spectacular game against that team and that player. Later, upon further questioning, he sheepishly admitted that he had made up the entire story!  That may have annoyed some, but not me.  I admired it.

Michael Jordon played in roughly 82 games a year, and that’s not including dozens of playoff games.  Although I can only surmise, I don’t believe Michael’s typical battle was with his nerves or the pressure of the moment; his battle was against being flat. People would go to see the Chicago Bulls play, but mainly to see Michael play.  He could not afford to take a quarter off, let alone a game off, so in a sense, he played every game as hard as he could.  How do you play every game with the pressure of playing as hard as you can?  Apply pressure.  Have something at stake.

When I’m hired by a client, more times than not, they will apologetically say things like this:  “I don’t want to make you nervous, but the CEO will be in attendance,” or, “… this program is critical to our success,” or, “… our team is not very excited about this.”  They seem shocked when I say, “Thank you, that’s just what I was looking for!”  What my client doesn’t know is that when my client doesn’t offer something to motivate me, I simply create a motivation of my own.

Each of us fights our own battle to be great, but that’s the easy part.  In 40 years, I’ve never shown up to deliver a seminar, workshop, keynote, or client meeting, without the intention to be great.  The reality is this: Our job is to be as great as the moment will possibly allow.  Never fear the pressure that comes with these moments; seek it out, and be grateful.

Related: How to Hold the Attention of Your Attendees in a Virtual World