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Who's to Blame for Us Losing?

I don’t watch much football anymore; I do occasionally read the sports pages. Thus I noted that recently- signed Cardinal Matt Ammendola missed a critical field goal attempt (if anything other than life threatening injuries can be called critical in sports) against the undefeated Eagles. (As a reformed NY Giants fan "undefeated Eagles" is a hard sentence to write.)

After the game reporters swarmed to get Ammendola’s reactions to losing the game. Cardinal teammate Justin Pugh stopped and then berated the reporters. He, justifiably, pointed out that Ammendola was not solely responsible for the loss. He, the rest of the team, and management had to shoulder its share of the blame.

Some other factors that influenced the outcome included that the Cardinal's quaterback in the play immediately preceding the missed field goal was so confident that he had gained enough yards to earn a first down that he ran out of bounds to stop the clock. He was a yard short of the first down marker.

According to newspaper accounts, the whole Cardinal team played very poorly in the first half, putting the Cards in a hole.

Further, one article went on to point out that Ammendola, who had been cut by another team, was not the best kicker available to be signed. The front office should have signed someone else.

Let me congratulate Pugh for pointing out the obvious--when a team loses it is never solely one person’s responsibility. Likewise, a victory is never because of one person, no matter how great. Victories and defeats are interdependent affairs. A team relies on lots of people doing their job. If they are to win, they must do their job better than the other team’s folks.

However, in our schools, we often forget this obvious fact. So many school leadership teams act as if every team member is only responsible for their department and not working interdependently to help the school meet its goals.

A quick example--at one time Duke School was struggling to reduce student attrition. The leadership team met, came up with the goal to reduce attrition by 25% and then devised a plan to make it so.

The division directors pretty quickly suggested changes they could make which would lead students to develop a stronger sense of school community and to improve their overall experience.

Other team members struggled with what their roles might be. They even suggested that while the goal was good for the school, it was really up to the Divison Directors to implement plans to retain students.

I continued to insist that this was an interdependent goal--everyone had a role to play.

In a flash of insight, the Business Manager started talking about how to make the re-enrollment process easier and how he could be talking to the parents with whom he interacted about how great the school was.

The Admissions Director started contemplating creating student ambassadors to help convince prospective students to enroll which would help convince current students to stay.

Our Development Director started thinking about how he could create a campaign that would meet some of the needs that might be leading to students leaving. Finally, the communications manager realized she needed to tell more stories about how great the school was.

Retention became an interdependent goal. Not a departmental one. And attrition was reduced in one year by almost 50%.

It is important to remember Phil Jackson’s reflection: “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.”

If the team is not working together, it is not working to its highest potential.


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