Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“Require Criticism and Disagreement in Your Company”
Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. —Mahatma Gandhi, Indian nationalism leader, social activist
Michael Jordan is the laughingstock of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Jordan—who dominated the NBA for years, won six championships with the Chicago Bulls, was crowned Most Valuable Player of the league five times, and still continues to be one of the most recognized sports figures in the world—is shooting air balls, as it were. As owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, he has been unable to translate his success on the court into success in the front office. During the 2011-2012 NBA season, his Bobcats had the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They reached their nadir. As their season ended in total shame, the players and owners prepared for a different game during the off-season: the blame game.
While the heated debate continues about what’s needed to save this franchise from complete collapse, most people already agree that the lack of Jordan’s leadership is a major problem. Charles Barkley, a former NBA player turned commentator, has chided his friend in public, implying that Jordan is an aloof owner who lacks management ability and has no interest in running a winning team. Many of Jordan’s closest confidants agree that the Bobcats’ leader-ship must be changed. Furthermore, they point to a culture of acquiescence that prevents the franchise from moving forward. In other words, Jordan is surrounded by yes-men minions who are afraid to tell him what he needs to hear in order to improve the team. This defeating culture can shoot down a business as easily as a basketball franchise.
When my company was young I committed the mistake of creating a culture in which everyone agreed with me. I only accepted individuals on my team who thought like me or who took orders happily. Also, in the same way that Jordan intimidates members of the Bobcats organization, I apparently had the same effect. Like Jordan, I was the superstar with a history of success. No one was willing to challenge me or my ideas to take the company to a higher level. I was somewhat aware of this internal culture, but I didn’t think it was harmful. Moreover, I wasn’t mature or confident enough to actively seek out dissenting opinions. As a result, my company didn’t reach its full potential. A culture that encouraged frequent criticism and disagreement could have led to that kind of success.
Now I actively seek people who will ruffle my feathers by criticizing my ideas. When possible, I make these critics a part of my team. Otherwise, I keep them close by for consultation. If I find people who can really get under my skin and make me question my way of thinking, I am especially motivated. I work harder because I want to prove them wrong—either by strengthening my case or by finding a better way. If my ideas aren’t working, I often adopt their suggestions. Through this process, my company is stronger.
My latest venture, a data analytics company, has benefited tremendously from a culture in which ideas arc challenged routinely. For instance, going against the yes-man faction at the company, we opted to use new Agile methods to create our product. Consequently, product development is faster and leaner.
Going from celebrated champion to ridiculed loser is not what Jordan had in mind when he decided to assume ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats. However, he may be out of his league, and it’s largely his fault. He now understands, like so many other business leaders, that he must employ people who tell him when he is headed in the wrong direction. Otherwise, his odds of turning around his franchise are next to nil.
Take a lesson from Michael Jordan’s ownership woes and my less exciting anecdotes. Surround yourself with honest people who tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you don’t, you may become the laughingstock of your industry, too.
So much for the theme of the classic Gatorade commercial that featured Jordan: “I wanna be like Mike!”