Somewhere buried within the thousands of pages I’ve read on leadership, I read a story about an interaction between John Wooden and one of his players. Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who led his team to seven straight NCAA Championships (10 total), was not giving the player as much time on the court as he would have liked. The young man, likely one of the best collegiate basketball players in the country, decided to express his disappointment to his coach. He approached Wooden and said something woodenquoteto the tune of, “Coach, why aren’t you giving me more playing time? I’m the best player on this team.” To this, Wooden replied, “You’re right, you are the best player on this team; but, we are not the best team when you are playing.”


Since reading that story, I’ve often spent time imagining the look of bewilderment that must have immediately fallen over the young man’s face when the Wizard of Westwood, arguably, the greatest coach in the history of sports, told him that the team was more important than the individual.


Additionally, I’ve often thought about just how right Wooden was in that moment. Achievement, particularly the kind of achievement that stands the test of time, is never attained in isolation: “We” will always be better than “me.”


Those who aspire to leadership in education need to remember this. More importantly, leaders must practice this. Here are some practical ways that leaders foster a “we” will always be better than “me” culture:


Leaders are inclusive, not exclusive. Leaders who build teams on “we” rather than “me,” spend time ensuring that everyone in their organization feels valued for their contribution. This can range from telling the new teacher that they have something to offer with respect to professional development to taking time to thank secretaries and custodians for how their work contributes to the success of the school. Great school leaders know that everyone has an important role to play when student success is on the line – and they work to ensure everyone feels valued in their role.


Leaders make their schools flat. There’s nothing to be gained from hierarchy. Leaders who successfully make their schools flat encourage everyone to speak up, they invite new thought that challenges traditional methods, they drop the use of official titles, they seek input from community members and students about how the school should operate and include those thoughts when making decisions with staff, and they decentralize the office as the center of thought by shifting it to hallways and classrooms all over the building.


Leaders encourage teamwork. The collective wisdom of an entire staff will always trump the wisdom of even the most intelligent person. Just was “we” will always be better than “me, people will always be smarter than one person. This means that leaders expect that their staff work together to do their jobs. Teachers should be encouraged to meet regularly within Professional Learning Communities, departments, and on specific task-forces, not because it’s cool to have meetings, but because these are proven to be more effective than doing it on their own.


Leaders encourage staff problem-solving. When problems arise, leaders who understand teamwork encourage their teams to solve them. Rather than attempt to always provide the answers, leaders encourage staff members to find the answers and to deal with the issues themselves. When this happens, the problem not only gets solved quicker, but leadership capacity is built within individuals, which helps them to further contribute to the team mentality.


These are just some ways school leaders develop a team mentality within their schools; I know there are more. What are some ways you build the “we” will always be better than “me” mentality in your school?

Angelo DelliSanti is the proud principal of Jesse C. Carson High School in Kannapolis, NC. For more by Angelo, read his writing at

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