Giving An A

“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”-- Thomas A. Edison


I love to read books that inspire me to think new ideas. The book that is inspiring me now is The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. The premise of this book is that each one of us is only limited in life by our own paradigms and the paradigms we accept from others. In order for each one of us to reach our full potential, the Zanders propose that we need to break out of those paradigms and be willing to walk into a world of possibility. One of the limiting paradigms the Zanders invite us to break out of is our habit of comparing ourselves to others.

"Giving an A" is a practice they introduce as a means of breaking that paradigm. The Zanders developed this practice for use in Benjamin Zander's college classroom. He was searching for methods to help his music students who operate in the competitive world of classical music. On the first day of class, he announces that everyone has already been given an A for the semester. Their responsibility is to 1) document why they have earned that grade in a letter written in the past tense and 2) act as an A student throughout the duration of the semester. Giving each student an A on the first day of class has revolutionized his students' lives. The Zander's report in their book that his student's performance in the classroom and on stage improved over their previous performance.

I thought about the practice of Giving an A as I sat in the audience watching my daughter receive her white coat with all the other first year medical students at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University (FIU). The White Coat Ceremony was a beautiful event filled with inspiring speeches for these future doctors. But they were all aware that they would have to earn a grade of 80% or above in their courses to advance to the second year. What would happen to these students' performance if they were given an A on the first day of class?

For me, the practice of Giving an A would require me to make a huge paradigm shift in my personal and professional life. I am a naturally competitive person and competition matters in my work. My work world is filled with grant proposal writing, evidence-based practices, and outcome measures. My organization's grades at the end of a grant/contract year are compared to other organizations' grades by our funders. These grades determine whether we obtain new funding, whether we move forward into the next year with existing programs, and what our levels of funding are. My team puts considerable energy into earning an A. I grade myself and my team with scores we receive from this competitive process. What would happen to our team performance if I chose to give every one of my team members and myself an "A"? I am so intrigued by the possibilities that I have decided to try the practice, as described in the book. For the next four weeks. I am going to:

1. Give myself an A,

2. Explain Giving an A to my team members and give them an A,

3. Have each one of us write a letter explaining why we are A students, as described in the book, and

4. Work together as an "A" team.

At the end of four weeks, I am going to have each one of us write down our impressions and experiences with Giving an A. I am open to the possibility that our individual and team performance will exceed the standards we are mandated to achieve. I will share our findings in my next Lead Change Blog post.

What would happen if you chose to give every one of your team members an "A"?

"The shell must break before the bird can fly." - Alfred Tennyson


(photo credit: Linda P. Freeman. Vanessa's White Coat. August 9, 2013. Miami, Florida.)

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