Remember the days when we used to get report cards from our teachers? They gave us feedback not only about our class work but also about us as human beings. Perhaps you were one of the kids whose teacher praised you by saying that you “played well with others.” If so, good on you! Playing well with others is an essential life skill, no matter how old we get.
Who Are Your Truth Tellers and Challengers?
It’s not always easy to work well with others, especially when the other person is very different from us. Often, the people we work with don’t share our opinions or our approach to problem solving. They might even challenge our thinking and insist on doing things their way—or at least insist that we compromise. This is a good thing! Why? Because we need truth tellers and challengers to help us grow and develop.
In her wonderful book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin shows how Lincoln became the greatest American president, in part by surrounding himself with those who had initially opposed him and who continued to challenge him throughout his presidency.
How Working with People Least Like Me Brought Out the Best in Me
Early in my career, I worked with a man who wasn’t like me in many ways. Where I was easygoing, he was a stickler. Where I saw the big picture, he was better at details. Where I had a live-and-let-live philosophy, he had a take-no-prisoners approach. A lot of people found it tough to be around this man, but he was brilliant and working with him led to a wonderful career for me.
I don’t regret a single day I spent working with this man. He got me excited about leadership and pushed me hard to be clear and theoretically sound in my work. I would not have become as good a teacher or presenter if not for him.
I also had a writing partner whose personality could be tough at times. He insisted on getting his way and didn’t always use tact when he communicated his opinions. Yet he had such a brilliant, creative mind that I knew I had to write a book with him. Despite the many confrontations we had, the book we worked on together never would have reached its full potential without him.
Working with these two men showed me how partnering with people who were different than I was could improve my skills and ignite my career.
The Benefits of Working with Others
I believe that playing well with others is my superpower. Over the past 53 years I’ve written more than 65 books, most of them with coauthors. Here are just a few of the upsides to working with others.
Learning. My mother used to ask me why I didn’t write my own books. “I already know what I know,” I would tell her. “When I write with somebody else, I learn a lot.” Writing with others increases my knowledge on multiple topics.
Skill Building. By working with coauthors, I sharpen my writing skills—vocabulary, grammar, organization, and structure. I also get to practice patience and listening skills.
Productivity. Without question, working with others increases my productivity. It is highly doubtful that I could have published more than 65 books on my own.
Networking. On my seventieth birthday, we threw a party and invited all my coauthors to attend. What a joy it was to be with all the wonderful writing partners I’d had over the years! There were around 30 of them at that time, and the number is even larger today. Developing a network of special friends is one of the greatest benefits of working with others.
Ability to Serve Others. I believe that the purpose of work is to make a positive contribution to humanity. Working with others allows me to expand my influence and make a bigger difference in people’s lives.
So, don’t go it alone! Learn to play well with others—especially those who might be different than you. Collaborating with others will bring out the best in you—and it will benefit your organization, as well.