School Leadership

We Not Me, Lessons on Teamwork

 January 30, 2020

By  Aaron Else

What Michael Jordan, Sun Tzu, and Zappos Can Teach Us – In this post, Aaron Else shares fundamental leadership lessons on teamwork and offers practical questions to help you find new solutions to old problems.

The difference between success and failure is a strong team.   

I know, groundbreaking.   

However, let’s take a moment and really look at what a team mindset means.  

Lessons for School Leaders on Teamwork - The difference between success and failure is a strong team.

Knowing Your Role as Leader

In June of 1993, the Chicago Bulls were in a battle with Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns trying to win their 3rd NBA Championship in a row. 

The Bulls featured the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, who was in the prime of his career. 

The Final Shot

They also featured budding superstar and future NBA Hall of Famer and named as one of the top 50 NBA players of all time, Scottie Pippen.  Anyone who watched basketball at this time knew that with the game on the line, Michael Jordan would take the shot. 

In fact, Jordan had scored the previous 9 points and had the ball in his hands with 13 seconds left.  Everyone knew what was coming…Jordan was going to take the last shot.   

Until he didn’t.   

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Carry the Team?

Over his career, Jordan went from the guy who felt he had to carry the team on his back to the leader who knew his role, and the strengths of his teammates.   

So with 13 seconds to go Jordan dribbled the ball up the floor and passed, eventually the ball found John Paxson who knocked down the 3-pointer that won the game and the Bulls 3rd NBA Championship in a row.   

Letting Go of Hero

By not having to be the guy who “had to be the hero” or wanting it more for himself, by giving up the ball and finding the strengths of his team, they won. 

He won.   

Sports are filled with examples of the player sacrificing for the team.  The understanding is there – great teams win championships led by unselfish great players.  From the 1980 USA men’s hockey team to the 2019 women’s soccer team. The message is the same.  

We beats me.  

Lessons for School Leaders on Teamwork - Be unselfish, vulnerable, and have an open mind to build a culture of we, not me.

We Beats Me

So how can we expect to accomplish great things and get the most out of teams if we are more concerned about “me” than “we”?

If we feel that “my ideas” are better than “our ideas”.  Or that thought that “the way we’ve always done it” is better than what research is telling us.  

The Strength of Collaborative Effort

Professional Learning Communities are not new.  They’ve been a part of strategies in all fields.  In fact in the book, “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, first published in the late 6th Century, talked about the strength of teams and the collaborative effort. 

Tzu talks about the strength of unity towards a common goal and working as one. 

Tzu called it “The doctrine of collective responsibility”. It’s the idea that we are all here together working towards the same goal.   

From Tzu to Zappos

In more modern times, Tony Hsieth, CEO of Zappos.com in his book; Delivering Happiness, led the way for his company to have a true PLC mindset.  

Hsieth, was a different kind of leader, working in a cubicle amongst those he led and often fostered having fun more than being productive.  He built his company on serving the customer through customer service.  If you’ve ever ordered or spoken with a Zappos representative you understand the lengths they go to for the customer.  

No Experts, Except for Us

Hsieth is known for inspiration and this often came through in his emails.  He once wrote:

So there are no experts in what we’re doing. Except for us: we are becoming experts as we do this.  And for anyone we bring on board, the best expertise they bring is expertise at learning and adapting and figuring new things out – helping the company grow, and in the process, they will also be growing themselves. 

He was talking about being a PLC.  Inspiring the contributions of all to benefit all.   

Find New Solutions to Old Problems

The problems you are facing as a campus leader are not new.  They are just new to you. 

If you try to solve your problems on your own, you might be met with limited success.  So you have to model what you expect.   

Be unselfish.  Be vulnerable. Have an open mind.  Build a culture of “we”.   

Think about the staff you have now. 

  • Who can you turn to on your team or district team to help you through the obstacles in your way? 
  • Who is your “John Paxson” that has the tools for the job? 
  • How will you work to set them up for success? 
  • How will you motivate your team and create the buy-in? 
  • How will you get your teams to model what Tzu called “the doctrine of collective responsibility”? 
  • Those motivators are already there, you just have to help bring them out.  

Finally, how will you model what you want?  Perhaps setting up your desk in a classroom isn’t the best idea like Tony Hsieth did at Zappos, but can you strive for an all-out effort to serve your customers, the students? 

Be the person giving the assist.  Model collective responsibility.  Finally, bring your passion for making it right for your students.  

Chances are you have the tools, motivation, and the important pieces already there with you.  You just have to go first. 

Be the person giving the assist.  Model collective responsibility.  Finally, bring your passion for making it right for your students.   

While none of this is groundbreaking, it isn’t easy either.  However, if we can do these things consistently the team’s strength will shine.  And that can be the difference WE need to succeed.  

About the author

Aaron Else

Optimist. Principal in North Texas. 21 Years Experience. Husband. Dad. Working to find stillness.


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