Trying is harmful

Do, or do not. There is no try.
(Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back)

  • We’ll try to meet tomorrow
  • I’ll try to be on time
  • We try to improve every day
  • I’ll try not to let you down

The verb ‘to try‘ is the shield behind which we hide when we are not sure, when we don’t really feel like doing something, when we try to avoid uncertainty, when we don’t want to make a commitment.

The verb ‘to try‘ is a wild card, is the way we can walk through without burning any bridges.

Up to what point does inserting to try into the sentence affects our mood, our will, the results of our actions?

Are we doing our best when we are just trying? Or are our words leading to a path of failure?

How different do the words sound when we rule the lack of commitment, the laziness and the fear out!

  • We’ll meet tomorrow
  • I’ll be on time
  • We improve every day
  • I won’t let you down

How different do they sound when we stop trying and start doing!

Who is your sidekick?

As Batman has Robin, as Maverick has Goose, as Frodo has Sam… chances are you need a sidekick.

On one hand, a sidekick will be at your side whenever you’re in big trouble.


On the other hand, a sidekick is someone you can train as your replacement.

If you don’t have a sidekick, you’d better look for one.

Don’t give up, don’t let others give up, and absolutely never make others give up

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Henry Ford

Don’t give up.

Don’t let others give up.

And most important; Don’t MAKE others give up.

Like a tennis player who always run an extra step and returns one more ball, this resilience will give you an extra chance to get your project’s goal. As an individual contributor, you always have the option to never give up.

When a colleague is in trouble or has failed, you can always show up and offer some help, whether it represents a helping hand, a good piece of advice or just listening to some whining. As a team member, you always have the option to support the rest of the team.

Finally, as a boss or a leader, you have the power to MAKE others give up. Everyday, intended or not, you are leading by example. If you are not recognizing their good work, if you look depressed or desperate, if you just punish the one who tries to make a difference or goes the extra mile, you are setting the stage for people giving up. And there’s no bigger single tragedy for the performance of a team, that having team members who doesn’t feel like doing their best. If someone doesn’t think the work is worth the effort, they won’t fight enough to get the task done. As a leader, never ever allow yourself to make your team give up.

Never give up. Don’t let others give up. And absolutely never MAKE others give up.

Quote on accepting blame

Rita Hayworth playing Gilda (via wikicommons)When they had the earthquake in San Francisco
Back in nineteen-six
They said that Mother Nature
Was up to her old tricks
That’s the story that went around
But here’s the real low-down
Put the blame on Mame, boys
Put the blame on Mame

Gilda Mundson (singing on 1946 film Gilda)

A leader is eager to let team members make their own bets.

A leader is willing to accept the blame when some of the bets go wrong.

If you want the team to grow, you need both sides of the equation.

So be always ready to sing the song.



Quotes on leading by example: Become a mirror

“How do you inspire your team to do their best?
By example. I’ve always thought to lead by example, sir.”
(Invictus, dialogue by Mandela and Pienaar)

“- What would you ask then? – the HR person wondered, not amused.
– I’d ask, ‘How will you motivate our dishwashers.-
It’s a brilliant question, and one that the large hotel chain still uses today.[…] When the dishes are stacked high, as a manager you need to roll up your sleeves and start washing them, too. (For the record, only one MBA student got the answer right during Bill’s interviews that day and he was a former military officer.)”
(The Best Job Interview Question Ever, Gostick and Elton)

Anyway, on my first day of work for the sergeant major, I didn’t know what to expect. I was sure it was going to be horrible, a suspicion that seemed to be confirmed when he took me to the officers’ bathroom and told me I would be responsible for keeping it clean. And then he said something I didn’t anticipate.
“Here’s how you clean a toilet,” he said. And he got down on his knees in front of the porcelain bowl — in his pressed-starched-spotless dress uniform — and scrubbed it with his bare hands until it shined. (My Style of Servant Leadership,, Spolsky)

It doesn’t matter how big is the company’s dress-code handbook. No matter how clear the Internet fair-use policy is, nor the rules and regulations you’re trying to implement. Your boss’s example will set the real rules for you. Your own example will set the real rules for the rest of the team.

Pick the not-so-good chair, the not-so-big screen, the old computer, the noisy place… and leave the better, bigger, newer, quieter ones for your team. If you do amazing work in spite of deficient means, if you empower your team instead of yourself, they will make the same to their co-workers and their subordinates. Don’t forget they are the people doing the real work and making the real product.

Become the mirror your people are eager to look themselves into.

Quote on criticism and blame

You can blame people who knock things over in the dark or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing” — Paul Hawken

Someone is doing something wrong, so you have three options:

  1. Do nothing. It’s not your business
  2. Put the blame on someone. Maybe pointing out the problem will make someone else solve it
  3. Start fixing it by yourself

If your coworkers are lucky enough, you’ll pick option 3. It requires understanding the problem, figuring out a solution and having the guts to implement it.

And then, you must deal with the people who choose options 1 and 2 instead. Not easy, but correct.

Team Leader vs Project Manager

The frontier between Kingdom of The Project Manager and Republic of the Team Leader is subtle and, too often, unexplored.

Projects will need planning on the short term to keep them within the company’s strategy, and will need several sorts of management on the mid-term.

On the other hand, teams, specially unexperienced ones, will need a guide on a daily basis to assure everyone is working at full efficiency.

“[Project Manager’s] job is not to advocate for the project, but to be objective […] and determine what is working, what needs improving, and what must be jettisoned. This takes the project manager out of the role of managing a project team and into the frontier of leading both the team and the stakeholders.” (American Management Association Play book, T.Williams)

If both roles have to be played by different people, chances are this people will conflict in several areas. This is my mental image to keep the whole relationship consistent.
Cyclops as Team Leader of the X Men

Cyclops, as the Team Leader for the X Men, is a primum inter pares, respected for his experience and capable of making the team working together to conquer goals far beyond the isolated powers of each one. He is always in the battlefield with the team and will command when needed.

Charles Xavier as Project Ma

Professor X, as the Project Manager, have to have many things in his brain. Both from within the team and from the environment. Interferences from other organizations or from the government. The competition’s master plan. Legal issues and long term goals. And of course, taking care of his team, potentiating it as a group, providing it with the tools they need, and keeping them in the right mid term direction.

Related: What superheroes teach us about diversity in teams.