In his autobiography Rare Air: Michael on Michael, Michael Jordan talks a lot about teammates and teamwork. One page I distinctly remember has a picture of Jordan on the court in his red home jersey bent over with his hands on his knees, and Scottie Pippen is standing next to Jordan with his hand placed on Jordan’s sweaty, shaved head . It was a picture taken by acclaimed photographer Walter Iooss Jr. during the heated NBA playoffs in the early 90s and it tells a thousand words.
There’s a weariness in their body language, they are exhausted or very close to it. But there is also a sense of determination and connectedness, a feeling between the two players that they are going to fight through the challenges in front of them together and as a team – that they would fight together. Jordan obviously carried the team, but he was never alone, it was as a team they won the championship that year and for so many years after.
Another paragraph in the book quotes Michael while he talks about his pick-up games he’d play during practice or on the blacktop. He always played to win, no matter the stakes, no matter the players, so high was his competitive enthusiasm. He said, and I paraphrase, “Give me a teammate with talent or give me a teammate with heart, and I will choose the teammate with heart every time”.
Talent will take one only so far, and relying on talent alone can often lead to excess ego. Someone with heart is usually someone who takes on any role for the team to succeed, someone who admits they don’t have all the answers, learns from others, and is hungry enough to be coached. Someone with heart has an internal fortitude to give that something extra when success is on the line. With heart comes determination and perseverance.
The photo of Jordan and Pippen embodies this sentiment. The Chicago Bulls were smart and lucky enough to build such a team around Jordan.
Building a startup requires people of similar character, especially at the founder level and with early hires. In order for a startup to grow and flourish, you need teammates willing to take on multiple roles, put in long, hard hours, and absorb and learn new things.
I don’t mean to berate talent. Talent is so important, critical for success and talented people are hard to find. But talented people with the determination and perseverance to run through walls with you are even more difficult to find. They separate the wheat from the chaff.