NBA Star, Michael Jordan Breaks the Silence – When athletes become leaders, not celebrities

By | July 27, 2016

michael-jordanWe are a culture that celebrates and values athletic achievement.  It’s the reason we pay someone who plays a game at the highest level more than someone who saves lives, or who is the leader of the free world.  It’s why we wear a name other than our own across our chests, and on our backs.  And it’s why brands ante up millions in endorsement deals – because our admiration of these people translates to our spending habits.

I’ve written before about the inevitable moments when these athletes become celebrities, and inevitably let us down, and the reputation implications for the brands that support them.  At the first whiff of a celebrity-athlete scandal, the conversation immediately turns to whether they will lose their endorsement dollars.

But what happens when one of those athletes turns the tables, and becomes a leader – off the field or court?

Michael Jordan, whose footwear and clothing empire is worth an estimated $2.25 billion per year, and is the most famous athlete to have been cut from his high school team, well pretty much ever, is speaking out about racial violence and the problems that have been gripping our headlines.

And he isn’t taking a side, or polarizing people against one another. You can read more about his donations, and his decisions here.  What struck me more than the size of his check or the choice of organizations was the respectful, unifying tone of his explanation – in support of law enforcement, but also acknowledgement that not everyone has had his experiences, particularly members of his own community.

The simplicity of his approach is in its balance – he chose a brand new organization and one of the oldest and most respected, and funded them equally.  He acknowledged problems on both sides.  And he bypassed “silver bullet” reactionary rhetoric in favor of a pragmatic acknowledgement that change takes time.

Isn’t that what leadership is all about?  Presenting something complex and difficult in an accessible, constructive manner, managing expectations and defining success? Helping people see the goal, and believe it can be achieved, then committing resources to making it happen?

Bravo, Michael Jordan.  I am sure I will be buying more sneakers very soon.

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