Pronouns

Do you listen to yourself much?  I do.  Not to you, specifically, but I listen closely to other leaders and the language they use.  So do their people.

There's a choice we make frequently that communicates something very important to those listening.  It's our use of pronouns.

  • My business...
  • I decided...
  • I created...
  • My plan...

When I predominantly use "I" and "my," I'm communicating to the people around me that this world we share - this organization, this department, this product line, this facility - is centered around me.  That everyone else is an accessory to me.

It's a leftover appendage from the days when the leader was, literally, the king.  When everyone else just worked on the king's land, or served in the king's army.  Later, in our early industrializing days, it was congruent with the nature of many businesses, when a vast corporation was comprised of one great man, plus ten thousand people doing his bidding.

If you predominantly use "I" and "my," I'm not questioning their validity.  They may be perfectly accurate pronouns.  You may have had the original idea, found the financing, designed the product, sold it, serviced it, collected the money and executed the plan that took the organization to the next phase of growth.

But if our success as leaders depends on anyone else - anyone at all, whether mopping the floor or mailing the checks - is telling them "this is all about me" truly effective?

Bear Bryant, a legendary college football coach here in the U.S., once put it this way:

"If anything goes bad, I did it.  If anything goes semi-good, we did it.  If anything goes really good, then you did it.  That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you."