Jerry Krause is a Villain in ‘The Last Dance’ Because He Lacked This Key Leadership Skill
For five weeks, The Last Dance docuseries on ESPN captivated the attention of a sports-starved audience by exploring the Chicago Bulls dynasty leading up to their final championship during the 1997–1998 NBA season. The very first episode revealed the tension that the star athletes held with the Bulls executive, Jerry Krause. Krause, the general manager for the team, was the leader responsible for surrounding Michael Jordan with talent that led to 6 NBA championships in 8 years. Yet, despite the titles that the Bulls achieved under Krause’s direction, Krause greatly hindered his own success because he lacked a key skill of the most successful leaders: emotional intelligence.
There are 4 main elements of emotional intelligence (EQ): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Each main element has basic competencies associated with it. Below are the areas where Krause lacked the major competencies of the main elements of emotional intelligence and examples of how leaders with high EQ lead instead.
According to the research of Tasha Eurich, a NY Times Best Selling author and organizational psychologist, there are four self-awareness archetypes. Krause aligns best with seekers. Seekers have both low internal self-awareness and low external self-awareness. “They don’t know who they are, what they stand for, or how their teams see them,” describes Eurich. “As a result, they might feel stuck or frustrated with their performance and relationships.”
Krause struggled most with external self-awareness. He should have been conscious of how his teams felt about him, but he clearly was not aware. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Bulls, hinted at this during the docuseries. “Jerry Krause was one of the nicest, kindest, sweetest men I’ve ever known. But sometimes he’d love people who really didn’t love him back and it would disappoint him.”
Krause was often teased by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen throughout the dynasty. Jordan and his Bulls teammates even nicknamed Krause “Crumbs” because of the crumbs that fell on his shirt from pastries that he ate. Krause was often booed by the Chicago fans at team functions. He was loudly booed when he received his ring for the Bulls’ fifth championship, and he was also booed when his name was mentioned during the sixth and final championship parade.
Unfortunately, Krause’s difficulties with self-awareness fueled his ego which made him a less effective leader. An emotionally intelligent leader who is self-aware recognizes his or her trigger points and avoids the pitfalls that could occur from reacting emotionally. Self-aware leaders are also more likely to manage their strengths. “Self-awareness is so important for job performance that 83 percent of people high in self-awareness are top performers, and just 2 percent of the bottom performers are high in self-awareness,” according to Travis Bradberry, best-selling co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.
From the beginning of the docuseries, it was apparent that Krause was always trying to prove himself, but in his quest to prove his greatness, he failed to manage his ego. According to an interview with Sam Smith, a former NBA writer for the Bulls, in Episode 1 of The Last Dance, Krause had become jealous of the stars on the team. “All the attention is going to Michael and Scottie and Dennis and Phil. And Krause was growing resentful about this,” says Smith. This eventually led to the infamous statement attributed to Krause that “players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations do.” Krause later claimed that he was misquoted and said that “players and coaches alone don’t win championships; organizations do.” By that time, however, the damage had been done.
Emotionally intelligent leaders never seek credit for the work of others. They are usually servant leaders who give but expect nothing in return. They do not let their ego sabotage their success and are able to manage their insecurities. If Krause had been able to manage his impulses better, he could have avoided making a public statement that suggested that players and coaches play a lesser role in winning than what is usually attributed to players and coaches in team sports. If Krause had contained his ego and quit seeking recognition, he would have ultimately received the praise from the players and coaches that he sought.
Although Jordan was the clear leader of the team, head coach, Phil Jackson was the emotional leader who successfully kept a collection of diverse personalities together throughout the dynasty. He was a master at managing the players’ egos on his team.
Krause however, was either unaware of or completely ignored the power relationship that Phil Jackson held with the Bulls players. It was well known that Krause was courting Tim Floyd to be the next coach for the Bulls. Krause once invited Floyd to his stepdaughter’s wedding. Other Bulls members were invited to the wedding, but not Phil Jackson. Imagine how awkward this situation had to be for the team.
Further, coming off their fifth championship and second consecutive championship, Krause made it clear to Jackson that he could go undefeated during the regular season and not return for the following season.
“The beginning of the season, it started when Jerry Krause told Phil Jackson that he could go 82–0 and he would never get a chance to come back,” Jordan said. “Knowing that I had married myself to him, and if he wasn’t going to be the coach, then obviously I wasn’t going to play. So, Phil started off the season saying this was the last dance — and we played it that way.”
According to Daniel Goleman, internationally known psychologist and author of Organizational Awareness, A Primer, “Leaders who can recognize networking opportunities and read key power relationships are better equipped to handle the demands of their leadership role.”
Jackson was the key to reaching the players since he had gained all their respect. If Krause had not developed his grudge against Phil Jackson, he would have been able to similarly gain the respect of Jackson’s players. This grudge against Jackson prevented him from building power relationships with the players on the team and ultimately led to the breakup of the Bulls dynasty.
Krause was never able to build relationships with his star players. Jerry Reinsdorf stated as much during the first episode of the docuseries. Reinsdorf said, “Yeah he had a way of alienating people.” When Michael Jordan broke his foot in 1985, Krause coldly told Jordan that he would not be allowed to play again that season. Jordan told Sports Illustrated in a 1993 interview that “[Krause] said, ‘You’re Bulls property now, and we tell you what to do.’ I was a young, enthusiastic kid, and that just made me realize this was a business, not a game. We never hit it off after that.”
One of the core competencies of relationship management is inspirational leadership. Inspirational leaders make other people feel important and appreciated. The words that a leader uses matter and had Krause chosen his words better, he could have delivered his message without offending Jordan.
Krause and Scottie Pippen also had an acrimonious relationship throughout the dynasty. Pippen felt like he was not compensated well for his talent and contributions to the team. Additionally, Krause’s handling of trade rumors and the inability to resolve his disagreement with Pippen completely severed what was left of their already fractured relationship. “That really is what sort of tarnished my relationship with Jerry,” Pippen said at the end of the second episode. “He tried to make me feel so special, but yet he was still, like, willing to trade and do all that stuff, but never would tell me to my face. After you’re in the game for a while, you realize that nobody is untradeable, but I felt insulted.”
Emotionally intelligent leaders are skilled in conflict management. They are adept at resolving differences of opinion. Krause’s relationship with Pippen would have been much better had he been better at conflict management.
Jerry Krause helped create one of the world’s greatest sports dynasties. He traded for Scottie Pippen and drafted Horace Grant in 1987. He hired Phil Jackson as an assistant coach and later promoted him to head coach. He drafted Toni Kukoc in 1990 and traded for Dennis Rodman in 1995. Each of these moves was key in either building or sustaining the Bulls dynasty.
Despite all the success that Krause obtained as a Hall of Fame executive, however, his lack of emotional intelligence prevented him from getting the praise that he desired.
Emotional intelligence is a skill that every leader must possess. Leaders with high emotional intelligence excel in understanding and managing their emotions. These leaders use the mastery of their emotions to handle interpersonal relationships. According to Travis Bradberry, “EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs.”
The study of emotional intelligence, unfortunately, wasn’t popularized until after the Bulls dynasty, so Jerry Krause wasn’t able to benefit from this science. Instead, he relied strictly on his IQ as an executive. Any leader of today, however, who desires to become a more effective leader would be wise to develop his or her emotional intelligence.
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