Laura Austin-Eurich // Leadership Thoughts

August 14, 2019

I remember sitting in a leadership class in grad school. We were given a list of 15 objects and told to rank them in order of importance for surviving on the moon. After we completed the list individually, we worked in small groups to discuss our answers and rework a list based on the discussion. 

Unlike many problems we face in the communication discipline, there were right answers and wrong answers. You don’t have to participate in the exercise to understand the takeaway (other than the fact that I was not cut out to be an astronaut): Every group in the class performed better than the individuals. The NASA exercise served as a powerful analogy for life and leadership.

It’s a lesson I return to over and over again. It sneaks up on me as I go about my daily life – on both the personal and professional levels. Sometimes it’s a small reminder, like when I listen to the “Make Me Smart” podcast – in each episode the hosts Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood remind listeners, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” 

On Thursday nights, you can find me at a local bar playing trivia. Alone I would perform miserably. But with my team, which is made up of five of us who range in age from 27 to … much older than 27, I am competitive. There’s something magic in the collective knowledge of people with varying backgrounds and taste in music (familiarity with songs and artists is pretty important at pub quiz). It also seems like each week it’s a different team member who comes through and carries the team. It’s a relief to know if I’m having an off night, I have four others who are there. It’s fun to be able to look across the table at a teammate and say, “It’s that one movie with the blue people,” and have them understand you. 

Of course, the places where I get to witness the power of teams most frequently is in my classrooms and among the teams at the Quad. 

Students are posed with complicated challenges; challenges that require the collection of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to even begin to address. Watching the teams work throughout the semester as their ideas and solutions evolve is a testament to the need for diverse backgrounds and perspectives. 

Present me with a problem and I will set about trying to find solutions (much to the chagrin of my daughters sometimes). Even with all the evidence that supports the magic that comes from working in teams, sometimes I have to stop and remind myself to slow down and allow others to contribute to what will be the better resolution not just the immediate answer.