Playing Well with Others

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.

“No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

I have met leaders in organizations around the world who act as if leadership is all about them. They want everybody to recognize that they are in charge. They believe that all the brains in the organization are in their office.

People who think that way certainly aren’t servant leaders. They are self-serving leaders who miss out on the reality that their people are capable of much more than they are given credit for. As a result, the best people exit the organization as soon as possible and search for a company where leaders see their people as partners rather than subordinates (subordinary people).

Servant leaders, on the other hand, realize leadership is about working alongside their people, sharing information, and keeping lines of communication open. When that happens, people get to know each other’s strengths and build on them to help the team perform at the highest level. They prove that 1+1 is greater than 2.

The Power of Teamwork and Inclusivity

Tapping into the talent, wisdom, and creativity of your people solves problems faster and gets more done. Why? Because as Don Carew, Eunice Parisi-Carew, and I point out in The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams, “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

A thrilling and inspiring example of this principle is the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Twenty young men—many of whom had never played together before—came from colleges all over the country. Six months later they won the Olympic gold medal, defeating the best teams in the world—including the Soviet Union, a team that had been playing together for years. No one expected this to happen. It is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history and is labeled a miracle.

Thirty-eight years to the day later, the US women’s hockey team pulled off the same miracle.

When members from both teams were interviewed, all without exception attributed their success to teamwork. The drive, commitment, cohesiveness, cooperation, trust, team effort, and passionate belief in a common purpose—“Go for the gold”—were the reasons for their success.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

Using the power of a team to get things done may seem like common sense, but many leaders don’t—or won’t—allow their teams to “go for the gold.” If you want to create a high performing team, you need to do the following:

  • Face the fact that your people already understand that you don’t know everything.
  • Ask for help from your team members when you are making decisions or trying to find solutions to problems.
  • Let them know everyone’s contribution is needed and appreciated.

When you model this side-by-side leadership philosophy, your team will be ready and willing to get on board. So, the next time you’re faced with pressure or complexity, don’t be a lone hero. Tap into the knowledge and power of your team!

“No One Of Us Is As Smart As All Of Us” is Simple Truth #19 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a preview!

The Best Use of Power Is in Service to Others

Most new leaders are excited to have power because they feel they finally have the title and position to do things their way. But having power doesn’t guarantee cooperation from your people. Leaders who think they are a big deal because of their position are at risk of losing their best people and not getting the performance they need from those who remain. Yet theories still abound that the best kind of leader is one who is forceful, powerful, and commanding. How can that be reconciled with the tenets of servant leadership?

When I was elected president of the seventh grade, I came home from school excited to tell my parents about this achievement. My father, who retired as a rear admiral in the US Navy, had a quick reminder for me. “Congratulations, Ken. But now that you’re president, don’t use your position. Great leaders are great not because they have power but because their people trust and respect them.”

My dad knew an important principle of being a successful servant leader: people will give you their best when they trust you and know you have their backs. I’ve never forgotten his advice—and it has inspired my leadership style for seven decades.

Want to know how to make this commonsense leadership principle common practice in your work? Don’t focus on the power that comes with the title of leader—focus on the people you have an opportunity to serve.  Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Continually emphasize we over me.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Encourage and support people’s efforts rather than directing them.

When you show your people you are there to serve, not to be served, they know they are part of a team and are motivated to give you their best efforts.

All kinds of people struggle with the notion of power. The abuse of power, the use of status and position to coerce others, and the egoism associated with people who have social and political power have turned people off to the acceptance of power, let alone the use of it. But there is nothing wrong with being in a position of power if you use it properly.

Randy Conley, my coauthor on Simple Truths of Leadership, wrote this on the use of power: Being a servant leader rather than a self-serving leader means giving away my power to help other people achieve their personal goals [and] the objectives of the organization, and to allow them to reach their full expression and potential as individuals. One of the paradoxes of leadership is that placing others before ourselves, and using our power to serve rather than dominate, actually brings us more power, respect, commitment, and loyalty.

I’ll close with the words of 17th century Spanish writer and philosopher Baltasar Gracian, author of The Art of Worldly Wisdom.

“The sole advantage of power is the ability to do more good.”

The Best Use of Power Is in Service to Othersis Simple Truth #14 in my new book with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Find it at your favorite bookstore or online retailer—and go here to download a sneak preview!

Inviting People to Follow

I’ve met a number of leaders who get upset when they give an order and people don’t obey it  immediately. They think when you are a leader, if you tell people what to do, they should blindly submit.

The reality is that most people don’t like to be told to do something. They like to be involved in decisions. That’s why I talk about servant leadership being a better way of leading than top-down, command-and-control leadership. Here’s a big distinction:

Servant leaders don’t command people to obey; they invite people to follow.

Servant leaders know people want to be part of the team. They invite their people to follow them in a side-by-side working relationship that the people have had a part in creating.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

If you want people to follow your leadership invitation, take the following steps:

  • Focus on we more than me.
  • Continually let team members know why they are important and how they can contribute to the success of the team.
  • Use your language wisely, as it makes a difference when talking to team members. “Would you mind?” comes across as an invitation. “Do this for me” sounds more like a command.
  • Say the words please and thank you; they are always welcome in any relationship.

Anytime you are seeking to influence the behavior of another person with the intent of getting something done, you are engaging in leadership. So whether you are a team member, supervisor, middle manager, or top executive, you’ll be more effective if you practice these steps.

Leading by command and position doesn’t work. To make a difference in the world, you need to act in a way that inspires people to follow your lead.

“Servant Leaders Don’t Command People to Obey, They Invite People to Follow” is Simple Truth #21 in the new book I’ve coauthored with Randy Conley, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. It’s on sale now at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Go here to download an eBook summary for a sneak preview!

Let Your Team Know You Appreciate Them

Working in teams is more common—and more crucial to organizational success—than it’s ever been. At our company, we define a team as two or more persons who come together for a common purpose and who are mutually accountable for results.

No matter whether teammates are face to face, virtual, or some mixture of the two, members of a high-performance team have the following mindsets in common:

  • They require clarity in communication above all else.
  • They thrive on trust among members and leaders.
  • They aren’t afraid of conflict because they know it is necessary for growth.
  • Ultimately, a high-performance team essentially leads itself.

If you have ever been part of a high-performance team, you know what a fulfilling experience it can be. Just for the fun of it, I referenced Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust—my new book coauthored by Randy Conley­—and found that the benefits of leading or working with a great team are featured in two of our Simple Truths.

SIMPLE TRUTH #19: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”—Eunice Parisi-Carew and Don Carew

Servant leaders realize leadership is about working alongside their people, sharing information and keeping lines of communication open. When that happens, people get to know each other’s strengths and build on them to help their team perform at the highest level.

SIMPLE TRUTH #36: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

As a trusted servant leader, when you establish a sincere, caring environment through your words and actions, you can be assured people on your team will always remember you for the way you made them feel.

To make these commonsense truths common practice:

  • Show your teammates you care through friendly camaraderie and acts of kindness.
  • Ask for help from one another when making decisions or trying to find solutions to problems.
  • Encourage your teammates to catch each other doing things right and praise progress. People never tire of being told they’re doing a good job. It’s good for motivation, morale, and momentum.

I have been a member of a fabulous team for the past three months—the folks who are working together on marketing and promotion for Simple Truths of Leadership. Our team fits the definition of having a common purpose and being accountable for results, and we all share the four mindsets I mentioned above. Each person is a self-directed achiever with special skills and unique talents. What a joy it is to be part of this team!

So please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary Simple Truths marketing and promotion team. First, our internal team at Blanchard:

  • Marketing leads: Randy Conley, David Witt, Vicki Stanford, Debbie Blanchard
  • Media Team (videos, podcasts, blog posts, articles): Michael Bowles, Adrian Henke, Chad Gordon, Renee Broadwell, Lisa Boyle, Evelyn De La Garza, Cheryl Horton, Richard Andrews, Mike Ortmeier
  • Social Media Team: Stefanie Hincks, Martha Lawrence, Andrew Broschart, Kayla Ratz, Madeleine Blanchard, Sidney Hernandez

Second, our external team—our publisher and promotional partners:

So here’s a big shout out to all my teammates for your hard work these past months getting our book and its important message out to into the world! Each of you has made such a positive difference. Thank you so much.

Whether you are a team member among peers or a team leader leading direct reports, it’s important to let others on your team know you appreciate them. So don’t forget to show appreciation to the folks you work with. It only takes a minute to give people a much-needed boost—and it will make you feel good, too.