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A Good Staff

There are times when you are blessed to be surrounded by good people. A great leader can be surrounded by mediocre people (or worse) and still lead them to success, and conversely, even a bad leader can look great when surrounded by great people.

An example of the first is Christ and His disciples—a great leader with a dysfunctional tribe. Yet through them, He revolutionized a planet, and in fact, is a hallmark of the way He does things—His signature on events. (I Corinthians 1)

Nearly all of us can think of examples of the second—an incompetent manager who somehow has a good team and they are able to function as a unit without leadership to do extraordinary work.

I am usually assigned first year graduate students for my TA’s every fall. My labs are challenging and time consuming for a TA, and there is a steep learning curve, especially when you are in your first semester of grad school. It is a difficult assignment for them. Also, it means that I get to train new folks from scratch every fall. By the spring term they are veterans, and it goes pretty smoothly. The fall can be rough.

This semester, we had so many first years in my area of chemistry that my entire teaching assistant staff are first years. This is the first time I have had zero returning veterans, and I was a little apprehensive about this.

I have been blessed. Today was the first day of class and this looks like one of the best teams I’ve had, especially of newbies. Since we first met a week ago, they have worked cheerfully and hard to learn the course. I walked into the lab this morning, hours before the undergrads would come, and most of the TA’s were there helping each other learn the experiments. This was unscheduled time. They didn’t ask permission or let me know they would do it. They just took the initiative to work as a team to make the course successful.

All I did was to tell them last week what the expectations were, give them some scheduled time where I was available to help them begin, and they have taken it to heart, shown initiative and have even hinted they would be more comfortable the less I breathed over their shoulder. I have never had such a great team of rookies.

When you have a team like this, it inspires and motivates you to reach for new or higher goals, because you are freer from handholding, from second guessing, and all of that effort that goes into making sure a job will be done. When you have confidence that they are doing their job competently and well, it is a great feeling. It is still unwise to abandon them and assume there will be no hiccups, but you can pursue other priorities you didn’t have time for previously.

Thanks, folks! I’m proud of you already, and grateful even more.


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