Every team needs a Bessie. You likely don’t know her – and that’s the point.
You are, however, probably familiar with the lines often credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson in a classic poem, Definition of Success. It has words that are quoted frequently, including this gem:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
The problem, though, is those aren’t Emerson’s words. They are Bessie Stanley’s, who included them in an essay published by the Gazette in Emporia, Kansas in 1905.
Can you imagine how Bessie feels? Her legendary words are on posters, refrigerator magnets, and heard in graduation speeches. Yet, the fame goes to Emerson.
Bessie can’t be reached at the moment, of course. But if we could share a tea together, we’d have to address this: The irony is not lost on us, Bessie. According to your words, success is measured by making a difference, not by gaining celebrity. Given that Emerson gets the credit for your work, do you still believe what you wrote – that success is about making a difference, not being identified as the one who made a difference?
In lieu of a discussion with Bessie, we can only ask ourselves: Do we have people like Bessie on our team? Do we have enough teammates who don’t care who gets the credit for the good things the team does?
One thing consistent within great teams is this: Team members spend almost no time identifying who made mistakes. And they rarely remember who had the original, brilliant idea.
They only remember this: Together, they achieved success.