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Standing Out or Standing Together?

By Retained | April 19, 2024

Interviewing is an art. At Retained and Tier4 Group, we strive to fill jobs with exceptional candidates. The interviewee will find ways to draw distinctions between themselves and the pack. They stand out.

Collaborators often stand out because they are team players. They stand out in an interview because they are great team players at work. They readily share information up and down the line. They are less concerned about topping their peers for that coveted promotion because they value helping others be successful. They don’t always have to grab the limelight by putting others down. And, most importantly, they have figured out that working together and sharing information generally means a happier workplace, better results, and more recognition in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, there are times to compete, avoid, compromise, and accommodate (referencing the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument). Yet, a heavy dose of collaboration is almost always present with the best leaders.

Adam Grant, in his new book, Hidden Potential, brings my point on collaboration to life as he relays the true story about “The Golden Thirteen”:

It was January 1944, as the wars in Europe and Asia were at their peak. Naval black combatants were relegated to menial roles aboard ships. That was about to change. Sixteen black men were selected for officer training. They were 20- and 30-year-old men with varied backgrounds, including porters, lawyers, mechanics, and other walks of life. They weren’t selected because they all possessed exceptional traits.

The sixteen men were separated from the white class that was going through the program at the same time. They had their own cohort. And many expected them to fail. The classes weren’t easy as a typical class had a 25% failure rate.

Here is the punchline. Every member of the class of sixteen soared past the requirements. In fact, years later, the group of sixteen learned that their test scores were, collectively, the highest on record for many years. Why the higher scores? There are several reasons. First, many of the white candidates saw themselves as competing with the other candidates for the coveted officer roles. Generally, they were less willing to share. They were in win mode. Why give their fellow candidate information that they worked so hard to garner, so that they could get THEIR spot. The black candidates had a higher purpose. They had something to prove. It wasn’t about beating out the others; it was about getting everyone over the finish line. So, they shared and they shared and they shared. They learned which each person was good at and that person(s) taught the others. It was a leave-no-man-behind approach. In this way, every candidate was given their best chance to be successful.

Thirteen of the sixteen candidates ended up being chosen as officers. They were known as the “Golden Thirteen”. Their success not only helped them but also opened the doors to the multitudes to follow in their footsteps.

Have you known people who keep information to themselves? People who take more credit for success and less for failure? They might always be in competition mode, and not with the outside world but with their supposed teammates.

The Golden Thirteen or, I would go as far to say, the Sweet Sixteen, demonstrated the value of working together without concern for being the best. They had a higher purpose which was to prove that they could do as well or better than anyone, and by doing so, they could set the Navy on a new course of fairness and respect for all.

That’s a lesson for all of us to live by.