Michael Jordan may be most-known as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but he was and still is also an incredibly savvy businessman. His purchase of the Charlotte Hornets are what catapulted him to billionaire status, and his 1997 deal with Nike created what is still one of the most popular shoe lines to this day.
When asked at one point why he wasn’t more active in politics, Jordan’s response was: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” According to Greg Blatt, an executive with over two decades of experience leading large corporations across a number of industries, this sentence encapsulated the ideal stance for most businessmen when it comes to politics. Leaders in the past understood that while you can have personal politics, a company’s mission is apolitical and therefore any exploration of politics by an organization inevitably inhibits its ability to fulfill that mission.
Today, the “Jordan Doctrine” is becoming a thing of the past. There is no compartmentalization of politics, especially for younger generations such as Generation Z and millennials who are becoming a more and more dominant share of the workforce. Calls for transparency in the corporate world have gone beyond looking at how the company conducts their business – stakeholders also want to know the companies they support do business with and why, and have used social media as a platform to voice these concerns.
Blatt says that he believes if you were to poll American executives on a confidential level, 99 percent of them would say they wished they could keep their companies out of politics. Their reasoning for that is sound: a corporation is not a person, and the expectation that a single view could properly encapsulate that of every single stakeholder within the organization is unrealistic at its best and dangerous at its worst.
Additionally, there is no “dipping your toes” into politics. Once you move past the hard line of “we don’t engage in politics” you are faced with the question of where the new line is. If you are engaging in something, what is preventing you from engaging in everything? Blatt says that this can create a massive distraction from the work of the organization itself, both in terms of public perception and the employees within it.
Times are different from when Michael Jordan made the decision to remain apolitical, and to ignore that is to fail to prepare your organization for the inevitable. A proactive approach to managing politics is vital to successfully navigating the modern world, and according to Blatt this means building a modality of consistent dialogue within an organization from all levels of it. This can help avoid reactionary situations, and encourage a high standard for the level of discourse politics are held to within the company.
The “Jordan Doctrine” may be the ideal solution, but Blatt points out that rarely in business are we able to proceed with what is ideal, and instead must be adaptable and innovative in our approach when compelled to engage.