Cycle of Incompetence: Learning from the New York Giants

The New York Giants have just fired another coach after two years. Unfortunately, the team’s recent cycle of hiring and firing coaches is tied directly to a deeper cycle of leadership incompetence at all levels of the organization. The Giants have lost 100 games in the last 10 years and have been the second worst team in the league since 2017.  Because I’ve been such a fan of the Giants for such a long time, I began thinking if there’s anything to learn from their failures. I believe that there is. I think the Giants have exemplified some key leadership mistakes that we can learn from as ministry leaders. 

Staying Comfortable

Nothing exemplifies the Giants poor leadership than their decision to stick with quarterback Eli Manning two seasons too long. Loyalty ran deep for Eli, especially since he won two Super Bowls for the team in 2007 and 2011. He was also Super Bowl MVP each time. How could they not stay loyal? Yet Eli’s skill level began declining in 2013 with a 27 interception season. He should have retired in 2015. 

Unfortunately, the team was enamoured with Super Bowl winning quarterback and went on a spending splurge for the 2016 season to have another run at the Super Bowl with Eli. Their spending earned them an 11-5 record and a trip to the playoffs. The team lost in the first round and the team began to unravel because all the money that was spent papered over deep-seated roster issues for a season. In 2017 and 2018, the team came completely undone with Eli at the helm. Those seasons indicated that he was clearly past his prime yet the team doggedly insisted that he be their starting quarterback. Any attempt to move on from Eli was doomed from the start

As ministry leaders, it can be very easy to be stay in our comfort zone. We can easily fall back on the ministry events, plans, and tactics we have used for years even if they are proving to be ineffective. But even more convicting from the Giants’ history is the fact that Eli himself did not recognize he needed to make room for younger players. He stayed in his position too long. And that’s a perennial temptation for all of us as ministry leaders: to stay in a position for too long because it’s comfortable. The goal of ministry is to equip the flock and to hand off ministry to the next generation. As Paul writes, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). 

One of our goals is to raise new leaders and then get out of the way. Even for someone like myself. No matter how old (or young) we are, we are all supposed to be passing on the faith (and the leadership) to the next generation.  One key question to ask ourselves is, “Where are the bottlenecks in my ministry?” Where are things moving slowly or inefficiently? These areas may be indications that we are holding on too tightly to our position. 

Invested resources into low value positions 

Because of wanting to be comfortable and unflinching loyalty to Eli, the Giants made one of the most significant draft blunders in modern NFL history by selecting running back Saquan Barkley with the number two overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Giants believed that they could make “one more run” with Eli in 2018, not realizing he was washed. So they spent the no. 2 pick on the lowest value position in football. The way the modern game of football has evolved is that running the football is significantly less efficient and effective than throwing. So sinking such a high draft pick into a running back is a decision that is still haunting the team today, especially since Saquan is injury-prone and runs skittishly.

Within the ministry world, so many resources, opportunities, models, and methodologies exist that it can be hard to know what is truly valuable to do and what is a waste of time. Thankfully, we have the Scriptures to guide us! Essentially, the Scriptures indicate that time spent within the word of God and with people is most valuable. And when we combine the two, even better! Our mission is to make disciples. We make disciples by sharing our lives with others and sharing the word of God. As a leader, we want to make sure we are spending our time on the highest value things in our ministry. The Pareto Principle says that 80% of our effectiveness will stem from 20% of our efforts. So what are the most effective things you can be doing as a leader in your ministry? Focus on those things and try to trim back on the rest. 

Misevaluated their own talent

The Giants routinely thought their players were better than they were. Tight End Evan Engram is a prime example. Engram has been lauded by the Giants as a playmaker with great athletic ability from the time they drafted him in 2017. Engram’s production on the field, however, has not matched the high praise. He has struggled to be proficient at blocking, which is a key function of a tight end. He has also struggled to catch the football, and routinely pops the ball up into the air for the other team to intercept. Yet the Giants have brought him back season after season because, apparently, he’s “athletic.” 

The Giants have succumbed to pride. They think they’re still one of the best franchises in football, but they’re not. They’re one of the worst. Now, the Giants are a visceral example of pride and self-delusion, but all of us, as sinners, bend toward pride. And as leaders, the temptation grows even greater. We can really begin to believe that we’re doing God a favor by our involvement in the church. But we’re not. Any good thing that happens in our ministries and through our efforts is a product of God’s grace. He’s the giver of all good gifts (Jas 1:17). So let us continually be on the lookout for pride in our lives and bring it before the Lord.     

It stinks to write such a scathing evaluation of the team I root for. But the results speak for themselves. And I think there are a lot of lessons for all of us to learn from their failures. 

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