Saturday, January 14, 2012

Leadership Lesson from a Pop Quiz

When I arrived at my intersession class* this morning, the professor told us we were having a pop quiz.  He explained that there were 24 questions, 22 or above was an A, 20 or above was a B, etc., and that his goal was for all of us to get A's.  I noticed everyone tense up a bit, and I put on my game face ("You're going DOWN quiz.").

The prof handed out the quiz** and, to my delight, it was word pictures that hinted at Christmas carols!  During the six minutes given my hand flew over the page, resulting in 22 out of 24!

"Anyone with 22 or above?"  My hand and one other flew up.  "How about 20 or above?" A few more hands.  "18 or above?"  One hand.  Over half the class hadn't raised their hand.  "Are you all satisfied with your scores?  Some of you've failed.  Only two A's."  Murmers and nods showed disappointment.  "Tell you what, I'll split you all up into teams, give you a few more minutes, and maybe we can get some more A's."

My teammates helped me get the last two.  Aw, yes!  We're the best, I thought, we have them all!

After three minutes, we were the only team who had all of them.

After another three... we were still the only team.

Three more... still the only team.

"Are you satisfied with 15 out of 24?" the professor asked one of the other teams.
"We just didn't know the answers, sir.  I'm not from the U.S. and neither is he!  We don't know these songs."
"Ah, I see.  So you needed some help."

Then the prof turned to my team.  "I don't know whether to pick on the bright student or the army guy," the prof said referring to me and to one of my teammates, "What do you do when there's a man on the field who needs help?" he asked my friend.
"But, prof, they didn't ask for help!"
 "Do you wait for a soldier to ask for help?  Do you let him get killed?  No.  You go help him.  You are so stuck in your paradigms*** that you're letting others fail.  Whose team are you really on?  Who is going to be a leader?"

What did I learn?  While it may seem unlikely to me that I should be a leader, I had all of the answers to our quiz, but I couldn't see past my perceived rules to help everyone achieve the goal (to get A's).  Sometimes parts of an organization (or, dare I say, spouses in a marriage) perceive themselves as "teams" in competition against each other--they perceive rules, conventions or expectations that limit the team's productivity.  Who is going to let go of their paradigm to save the organization (marriage)?

*Introduction to Total Quality Management/Six Sigma
**A link to the actual quiz:  Christmas Song Picture Game
***We had been talking about paradigms as a major barrier to change in an organization.


  1. That's a really cool teaching moment. Something so simple yet so effective. Sounds like an interesting class.

  2. I knew number 5 was about Rudolph and something red, but it sure didn't look like they were referring to his nose!

  3. Fred, I was thrown off by that one, too!