I had a little “flashback” moment over the weekend. It started when I had a group of eighth graders over who were working on a school project. The entire “team” wasn’t here since it was a holiday weekend, but those who live close made it a pool party/study session. I was impressed that they were working ahead and over a holiday weekend! In the midst of the kids giving “assignments”, I started hearing conversations like “Why did Mr. F put Max in our group?” “Max doesn’t do anything.” “Do we really have to have Max on our team?” (Please know names have been changed!) That’s when my flashback started. I remember “that guy/girl” from high school, college, even at a few jobs. They did nothing!!! In fact they either made things 100 times more difficult or they cruised by with a good grade by contributing nothing. I know everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I know that is why teachers and employers create teams to teach, learn, maximize strengths, etc. I know I was not the one who built the rocket in physics, but I wrote an impressive paper to explain the theory. I wasn’t the one who baked the soufflé in home economics, but I did some excellent menu planning and bargain shopping with our budget and even got some flowers for the table setting to impress our teacher. I know with the group at my house who will be the “speaker” for the presentation, who will make the presentation pretty, who will be excellent at sourcing their research, etc. So I asked them, “Did you ask Max what he wanted to do? Do you know what he might like to do?” Every single one of them said, “He does nothing. Ever! You should see his grades!” And if you have had teenagers, trying to rationalize this huge, unfair disservice from Mr. F was getting me nowhere fast!
So instead, I asked each of them to say what it is about Max that makes them so angry and frustrated. Then I asked them tell me what Max would be good at. They had to give me at least one thing! No matter how small. I got all kinds of answers – from he is good at making the class laugh because he does dumb things – to he is good in gym class. I told them that maybe Max had never been given an opportunity. Maybe he had never had a team put trust back in him and in turn he just decided not to care. I made them think about what if they were Max and felt like no one liked him or trusted him to do a good job. Would you want to do a good job if nobody seemed to care? Hostility towards Max started to turn to empathy. (In the back of my mind, I was thinking this is how you build leaders! GO ME!!!!)
Then I told each and every one of them, that if they help others, give advice in a kind way, be a true team member and bring their best assets to the table, they will have an awesome team that everyone wants to be a part of! They will have great grades because they will work together and take the best of each of them to create an amazing project.
So I want you to think about two things from this blog. One, do you have a team member that perhaps not everyone wants to work with? Have you asked yourself why? Have you tried to find their strengths and weaknesses? Have you worked with them to better understand their makeup? You are a leader and someone with whom your team wants to work and collaborate. Maybe there is a legitimate reason you are in this role and you can help. Are they just a bit more reserved and afraid to speak up? Do they feel intimidated? Are they in a role that isn’t well defined and they are looking for guidance? There is a very good chance that there is a solution and it just needs to be discovered.
Second, how can you create a team of leaders that work well together? Highlight and call attention to strong performances. Give kudos to your sales team for exceeding their monthly move-in goals. Praise the plant operations team for the beautiful landscaping. Shout out to the business office for getting the monthly financial statements in early. When you give kudos to certain team members, it shows the entire team how committed they are to the greater goals. You have, by default, established a group of people who others want to work with on a daily basis.
Not only should you be someone that others want to work with, but you can help create an environment that fosters those relationships. We have all known a “Max” or two or ten in our day, but did we really try to help them? Maybe they saw us as someone they didn’t want to work with? So think about it. I’m hoping that the next time the kids are at the house, Max, with their encouragement and a little bit of reflection on their parts, is a little less of a burden and more of an active participant.