The Big 12: A case study on how to destroy a partnership

By Jim Whitt

If you’ve read Riding for the Brand: The Power of Purposeful Leadership, you know there are four principles for leaders to follow in order to create a model organization:

1. Purpose
2. Partnering
3. Pioneering
4. Profit

The key words are “in order” — you start with purpose and end with profit. Not the other way around.

Apparently, leaders of the universities that comprise the Big 12 Conference haven’t read the book. Those of us who reside in the Big 12 geography are witnessing a case study of what happens when you get the principles bassackwards.

What is destroying the Big 12 is exactly what destroys most partnerships. Failure to adhere to principle 1 drops you down to principle 4. Profit is important. It’s what fuels free enterprise. But when profit trumps purpose the only motivation is reward and punishment. Dominance, not collaboration, is the name of the game. The partnership becomes nothing more than a dog pack which fights each other to establish the pecking order.

The focus needs to be on making the pie bigger instead of fighting each other to get a bigger piece of the pie. Make the pie bigger and everyone gets a bigger slice. When all the energy is put into fighting to get a bigger piece the pie shrinks as we have witnessed in the Big 12.

Flip the order of the four principles and here’s what you get: No pioneering, no partnering, no purpose and ironically, no profit. The pie shrinks to nothing.

The Big 12 better get to Riding for the Brand or it will be riding into the sunset.

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