My Never-Ending Quest to be THE BEST TEAMMATE EVER

The Beecher Sisters were very active in social issues in the mid-1800s. You might know of Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. You might know of Isabella Beecher Hooker, female education activist. The oldest of the sisters was Catharine Beecher, who preached the notion that a woman did not have to be weak and passive, but could be a strong and important member of her community, and who also loudly opposed the suffrage movement. A combination of ideas I found most interesting in elementary school - my Social Studies teacher gave us an excerpt from Catharine Beecher’s, “An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism, with Reference to the Duty of American Females”.

The juxtaposition of Catharine’s views forces you to read her material meticulously. What on the surface may be a radical opinion in support of women’s rights, may be just the opposite of the ideas we have of feminism.

As an example, my favorite quote from her is

The principle of subordination is the great bond of union and harmony through the universe.

This, from a woman who started two schools dedicated to the education of women. Catharine was the first author to ever teach me about the concept of “followership”. She was the first author that encouraged me to embrace the term “subordinate” as an aspiration and an identity. It didn’t take me any time at all to get over my baggage with that word. You would think that the subconscious battling of power dynamics would prevent me from truly understanding the concept, and it didn’t. Catharine believed - in earnest - that everything had its place, and that everyone had his or her role to play. The man, responsible for business and policy, must allow his wife to be educated on the subjects of domestic affairs, so that she can use her education with purpose to better her family. Catharine essentially compares the role of the housewife to a divine role - selflessly encouraging the success of her children, her husband, and her home. And remember, she argued against suffrage But if females cannot influence their nearest friends, to urge forward a public measure in this way, they surely are out of their place, in attempting to do it themselves.

I love this separation of concerns. The idea that you shouldn’t try to master all of the responsibilities of life, only those responsibilities of life for which you are delegated. This idea has given me a lot to think about in the office. The team’s entire set of responsibilities should be delegated to various roles, everyone being responsible for some subset, no two subsets overlapping (in math, we call these disjoint or mutually exclusive sets). If I’m on a team, which has delegated to me a set of responsibilities, I am required to master those things, and play a more subordinate role for the things that have been delegated to others.

So, how does being “subordinate” make you a better teammate?

Part of it is the “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem. If I’m busy taking the lead on a thing with 3 other teammates, how do we get to the solution? Consensus? In my experience, consensus takes forever, and only a subset of the people involved really care about the outcome. What if those 3 other teammates are taking the lead on their own things. Would they really have the head-space for caring about the thing I care about? If no one wants to be subordinate, if everyone wants to lead, it’s very likely that none of these “leaders” will have any followers. Imagine, a bunch of people with great ideas, and no one to second, to chime in with a “That sounds awesome! Let’s try that!”, to buckle down with and to actually figure out the “how” of the idea.

If instead, you had a teammate who was subordinate in role: available to provide information when asked, to support your new idea with energy and activity, to dedicate herself to supplying honest and helpful feedback, to be a “doer”. Sounds like a great teammate right?

One more Catharine-ism…

Woman is to win every thing by peace and love; by making herself so much respected, esteemed and loved, that to yield to her opinions and to gratify her wishes, will be the free-will offering of the heart.

Could you imagine reaching a place on your team, where through your charity in promoting others’ ideas, through your candor, through your forbearance in crucial conversations and situations, you’ve established so much appreciation and esteem that when you have an idea, your teammates - in turn - jump at the chance to make it happen?


THAT teammate is how Jimmy Collins, former president of Chick-fil-A, describes “Creative Followership”. I totally recommend his book on it if you’d like the musings of an intelligent person on this idea.

Written on May 21, 2018