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“I” and “Me” vs. “Us” and “We” Leadership

When I first started managing people someone told me to shift from the pronouns “I” and “Me” and start focusing on “Us” and “We”. Words that we use often define the way we think and the subsequent approaches that we take to solving problems. The only reason that leaders and managers exist is because there is too much work for one person. Leaders need to understand their role as organizational visionary, personal coach, manager, and motivator. they have to leverage other people’s expertise and trust their people. Unfortunately, many leaders have convinced themselves that they are the source of success. They don’t seek input from their people and assume that their staff doesn’t have as much insight as they do. This perspective destroys trust and motivation.

For the last 2 years I’ve watched a very bright and energetic leader try to build an organization by merging similar product design groups together. The functions are similar enough that they should complement one another’s strengths well and the groups are staffed with strong professionals that team well. All of the ingredients for success are in place but one. The leader doesn’t leverage his staff when building a vision. Instead of bringing his leaders together with stakeholders to come up with a joint vision he puts together a plan and presents it. Sadly, the groups stay in their silos and they don’t leverage one another very effectively.


“I” and “Me” leaders often create a culture of distrust that is not conducive to open communications and risk taking. When people don’t trust their leader to listen to input they will often protect creative approaches for fear of either criticism or that someone will take credit for their work. Staff meetings become opportunities for people to tell the leader what they want to hear rather than a forum to exchange ideas, develop future concepts, and solve problems.

10 Signs of a Fear-Based Workplace

Leaders that I’ve most admired bring people together to share ideas and give credit to strong contributors. One of my former managers, Richard, (and long time mentor) exemplified this behavior. He always said that he hired people smarter than himself so that he didn’t have to work. The fact was, however, that he worked very hard to facilitate discussions and idea exchange. He also took great pains to “advertise” his staff’s accomplishments. Richard was genuinely humble but instilled devotion in his staff because the culture inspired us to take risks and he encouraged crazy ideas and experimentation. It was just plain fun.

1 comment to “I” and “Me” vs. “Us” and “We” Leadership

  • Theda E.

    How coincidental! This same Dilbert cartoon has been circulating in our group. Are you and Scott Adams both flies on the wall with the goings-on of our re-org? Thanks for posting this and for reminding me what is expected of good leaders to keep teams motivated. It’s very important to me to keep the team I work with motivated and productive as we wade through the uncertainty.

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