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Executive Corner – Learning How to Win From Michael Jordan’s Coach: What Tim Grover taught me

Michael Clegg | 05/12/2022

I am attending a conference with the MRI Network that hosts some of the world’s most outstanding and successful recruiters. This network represents recruiters from over 20 different nations across four continents. Tim Grover gave the keynote address, and I’m going to share some of my lessons. Tim Grover is known for coaching one of the greatest athletes on earth, Michael Jordan. Grover’s role is speaker, trainer, and the owner of “Attack Athletics.” Equally impressive, Grover also trained the belated Kobe Bryant for nine years.

Your reputation precedes you, and it’s essential to recognize the role that Image and Exposure play in your success. I’ve seen YouTube clips of Grover, and this clip shows the level of detail that he focused with Michael Jordan. Grover said, “I saw that Michael fell a lot while playing, creating many injuries in other players. So we taught him how to fall.” Grover spends so much time on the details, including recording Jordan’s games and counting Michael’s steps. Grover said, “I had to be prepared to train Michael the next day, and I needed to know every game detail. I am the original Fitbit.”   

A few lessons from his talk that are relevant to our day to day lessons as leaders:

·      “Every win starts in silence in the dark with your thoughts.”

·      “I don’t teach mindsets. People have too many thoughts.” – He teaches process.

·      “People that say ‘don’t sweat the small stuff don’t know what they are talking about. I say ‘sweat everything.’” – he helped Jordan stay injury-free for most of his career by teaching him simple things like how to fall during games to avoid wrist and back injuries. He worked out different legs with different weights based on the number of steps and pivots he took.

·      “Be obsessed with winning. Don’t be interested in winning. Being interested is a hobby. Obsessed people change the world.” If Amazon was just “interested” in box packages, Grover said they would never have become the current organization. Jeff Bezos was obsessed with being the best customer service organization ever.

·      “Motivation is entry-level. Elevation is the secret that we demand of ourselves.”

·      “Nobody judges you when you’re in the middle. They want you to stay there so their lane is free to accelerate. If someone tells you to “stay in your lane,” I would say, who the f*#k are you to tell me to stay in my lane.”

·      “All championship teams have one identity.”

·      “Routines are built for comfort or success.”

·      “Winning can cost you everything but reward you with much more.”

·      “Sitting on a fence is uncomfortable. Make a decision and get off of the fence.”

·      “The greatest victories lie in the unknown.”

·      “If you think the cost of winning is too high, wait until you get the bill of regret. It’s generational.”

One question from the audience brought out a story that epitomizes the sacrifices it takes to be the best. “Isn’t obsession a negative term?” Grover’s response was “No.” Grover tells a story about the necessary travel because he had to attend every one of Jordan’s basketball games.  He was upstairs packing, and his 10 yr old daughter walked in and said, “Daddy, how come you have to leave all the time?” He responds to his daughter, “this is how daddy takes care of you and mommy.” His daughter’s response was, “if I eat less, will you stay home?”  It seriously brought a tear to my eye of the commitment it took for Grover to be great at his job. Grover looked at the audience and said, “if this was a great Disney fairytale, I would close my suitcase and go skipping through the house with my daughter. This isn’t a Disney fairytale. I finished packing and left for the airport. These are some of the sacrifices we have to make to be the best.” He says that every level of success requires that he has to give something back. We can be obsessed with many different things, but we can only obsess on one thing at a time. His message was to be present where you are. When you are home with your family, be home with your family. We all should heed this advice in the days of iPhones and iWatchs. Be present where your feet are. Being all in isn’t easy, but you cannot get distracted.

In the last portion of his speech, he talks about “What to think vs. How to think.” He said winners and champions learn how to think. He tells a story about Kobe Bryant while he was training him. He said Kobe was very different in his preparation than Michael. He said, “Michael understood the importance of recovery. Kobe wanted to grind 100% of the time, and he had to teach him how to think about recovery.” When Kobe was going for his 5th ring, he lost Game 6 to the Boston Celtics. Grover met with all of his clients after their games. Kobe said, “Tim, we threw everything at them but the kitchen sink.” Tim’s response was, “why did you save the kitchen sink?” Kobe won his 5th ring and played 20 years in the NBA. Kobe enjoyed five days of being a champion in 20 years of being a professional athlete. Michael Jordan had just won another ring and was in the locker room after the game talking with Tim. Jordan looked over at Tim and said, “what’s next?”

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