Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Aim for zero

I am an aviation and leadership buff.  Both itches were scratched by Chris Hadfield’s new book, but especially the leadership itch.

I can’t imagine a workplace more stocked with top performers than the astronaut pool at NASA.  These few candidates have been selected from amongst thousands of applicants for whom a PhD level education is just table stakes.  These are all serious performers used to being very good at what they do. Outperforming those around them is normal.

…and suddenly they are all crammed together, put on a team, and expected to work together.

Hadfield’s advice on joining a team comes not only from a top performer, but also from someone who is a renowned team player. Basically Hadfield says that when you are part of a team, you’re either a ‘plus-one’, a ‘zero’ or a ‘minus-one’. If you’re a plus-one, you’re actively adding value. If you’re a zero, you’re generally competent and don’t get in the way. Being a minus-one sucks, because you’re a liability and actively causing problems.  Most astronauts consider themselves plus-ones at all times.

The problem is, if you’re a plus-one and you walk into a situation trying to prove how great you are, you can quickly go from being a plus-one to a minus one. Your ‘I got this’ mentality might easily irritate and prove detrimental to the group dynamic.

So the best thing to do in a new situation? Aim for zero. Listen. Observe. Offer to help where you can. Don’t try to take control of everything. If you know what you’re doing, you won’t need to tell people you’re a plus one. They’ll know it.