< This was published in LinkedIn >
At 22 I thought the same approach that got me through high school in Trinidad, where I was born, would get me through my undergraduate studies at Howard University. Was I dead wrong!
First of all, my all girls high school class was pretty homogeneous, in terms of motivation, and in many ways, how we approached problem solving. After all, most of us had started at the same primary school, with the same great dedicated group of teachers. All students had to go through the rigors of a national entrance exam to get into one of the top high schools in the country. I was accepted to Bishop Anstey High School, which was, and still is today, one of the top university preparatory schools on the island.
It was a given that students who sat in the front rows were the nerds. They took copious notes, did all the readings and the professor referred to their papers as the model that everyone should follow. These were the ones who would argue with the professor about an "A" versus an "A+". That was me!
So you could imagine my shock when, as a sophomore at Howard University, I was thrown into a group project with other students, who didn't seem as motivated or committed as I was, to dive in and commit hours to getting their research done. I questioned their priorities. I will later learn my perception was wrong.
So naturally, I focused on doing all the work myself and reported the results back to the group. I did a really stellar job, I thought. Until it was time for us to give the presentation and I was the only one who could speak to the content. Needless to say my group barely scraped by with a 'C' on the assignment. As my professor reminded us, it was supposed to be a group assignment, not an individual presentation.
By my senior year, my approach to group assignments had evolved. I spent more time trying to understand my fellow colleagues' strengths, and asking what contributions they wanted to make. Rather than parsing out assignments, I asked individuals what their areas of interests were, and when they could complete the work.
I followed-up to ensure that everyone was on track with what they were assigned. (Cardinal rule, trust but verify). No surprise, the final presentations went a lot smoother, and the content was much richer because of the different ideas, and approaches that everyone contributed. My experience was that different contributions can make the final product more complete. And diverse ideas, enable more thought, and debate, which is what learning and knowledge is all about.
I expended much less effort on group assignments, and was able to put into practice what had been theory, that there is no "I" in team or "me" in group. Even more important, I experienced first hand that leadership is more about enabling others and motivating them to give their best, not proving that I can do it all.
It sure felt great being part of an 'A+' team!