Lessons from the Gridiron

If you know me even a little bit, you know I am a sports fan. A big, HUGE, sports fan. And although I can sit down and watch any sport (even curling), football is my favorite. I’ve wasted many a Saturday and Sunday devouring college and NFL games – and I don’t even care who’s playing.

So when a Board Chair started talking football during a recent visit to a client school, my ears immediately perked up.

The Chair referred to an article that originally appeared on espn.com, Don’t Let Complacency Kill Your Organization.

The article discusses Alabama’s Head Coach Nick Saban, and why he’s been able to create a college football dynasty, winning 5 national championships in just 9 years.

According to the article’s author, “The cancer of complacency can be a killer for any organization, but Coach Saban has mastered the process of keeping his players, his staff and himself on edge.”

Within this short piece, there are so many good takeaways for private-independent schools. Here are the highlights:

Nothing is a given.

Having wait pools now does not guarantee you’ll be full in the future. Nor can you rely on your school’s name or legacy to bring in inquiries or fulfill your Annual Fund goal. Work hard but smart to earn every new family, every re-enrollment, and every dollar raised.

Treat everyone with respect.

You may be tempted to focus all of your time and attention on the major donor. But the $100 donor who gives for 30 consecutive years is just as important as the flash-in-the-pan $25,000 donor who disappears after 2 gifts. Why? Because the long-term donor is the one who is truly connected to the mission and values of your school, and they are the donor who likely will write you into their will.

Operate with a sense of urgency.

Don’t wait for your admission applications to dry up before you crank it into high gear. Competition for private-independent schools is increasing every day. High energy and intense focus on your goals will be critical to adapting to the ever-changing educational landscape.

Open Yourself to Feedback

Sometimes, brutal honesty is just what we need to enact meaningful change in our schools. School leaders are often uncomfortable asking parents, students, and faculty for feedback because, quite frankly, the truth hurts. But there’s nothing like solid data and constructive suggestions to move us off our proverbial rocking horse. Make it a point to regularly survey your faculty staff, students, parents, and alumni so you can stay ahead of issues instead of fixing them.

And, finally, here’s my favorite takeaway from this article …

Stand Out from the Crowd

“When you stop trying to find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you’ve got issues.”


Probably every client school I’ve worked with has heard me say, “Tell me what’s different about your school, and you can’t say great teachers, excellent academics, or small class sizes.”

Why? Because EVERY school says that.

Be creative, be different in your messages and approaches, but most importantly be authentic and true to your school’s Mission and Portrait of the Graduate.

As an unapologetic football fan, it was easy for me to find connections between the espn.com article and the private-independent school world. But really, I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch. I think there’s something all of us school folks can learn from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide … yes, even those of you who just happen to be Auburn Tigers fans.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s