Magic Johnson: Living as a Leader

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The other night I caught a program on ESPN called "The Announcement."  It featured Magic Johnson and focused on his life since he announced that he was HIV positive.  As I was watching the feature, it was really all about how Magic is living his life and leading it as if he were leading the most important team in his life.

Several people were interviewed and video clips were integrated in telling the Magic Johnson story–both before and after the announcement.  Pat Riley said that Magic was the best leader he ever coached on the court.  Riley said that Magic wanted his teammates to do well and that explains his selfless play and leader in assists.  Others described Magic as a joy on and off the court.  From the clips, it was clear that Magic loved every minute of playing basketball. 

But what really struck me is how Magic is living and leading his life.  He demonstrated and is demonstrating so many of the characteristics that I consider critical to effective leadership, but not taught in business schools:

  • Authenticity:  He admitted his mistakes and took responsibility for his actions.  At the time of his announcement, HIV positive meant a death sentence and he was preparing himself for that.
  • Forgiveness:  He asked for forgiveness from his family, teammates, fans, and everyone who cares about him.
  • Gratitude:  He said every day was a blessing to be alive and it has been 20 years.  Often when people have a near death experience (NDE), they live in the present because they know there may be no tomorrow.

Magic concluded by saying something such as:

"I'm happy being a husband, father, businessman, and poster boy for the face of AIDS.  If I can make a difference in one life …" 

Magic even said that there was nothing in the last 20 years that he would have changed if he could.  Yes, he would have changed things before "the announcement," but after it was too late.  He accepted the responsibility and took charge of what he could to control his life.  And his wife, Cookie, made an impression on me also.  In the interviews with her, she showed courage and conviction to stay together as a family. I thought the whole documentary was powerfully moving.

Magic's smile is magical.  As a Larry Bird fan, I was interested in the question to Magic about forming a "legend's league" with some of his old buddies such as Larry and Michael Jordan (whom Magic called the greatest basketball player).  And Magic just smiled.

If you can catch "The Announcement" on ESPN, I highly recommend it.  Let me know what you think.


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