"I" vs "We"
Updated: Jul 29
An organization, almost by definition, has more than one person. A key goal for leaders in any organization is to keep people inspired.
No matter what kind of organization, inspiration leads to higher retention and just a better place to work. There are plenty of ways we can inspire teams and there are entire books on doing so. The traditional approaches involve identifying motivators, giving accolades, providing training, communicating more, doing what you say we’re going to do, identifying a focus on the purpose, defining the mission, and dozens of other techniques.
Inspiring our teams keep people engaged, inspired, active, and create a great sense of community that is infectious to our customers.
There are also demotivators. These negatively impact the team and can be off-putting. There are obvious behaviors that just don’t work. Strong emotional responses can create a sense of not feeling safe in the office. Any actions that can be seen as not putting employees first can make teams feel like we don’t value them. Tolerating bad behavior runs off those who don’t have to deal with it. Some of this is easy to identify; other actions aren’t.
On of the easier and yet harder things to overcome when we’ve started a company is to stop being possessive about our organization. This means to go from saying “I” or “my” to saying “we” or “our” when referencing the organization, the activities of the organization, or the organization’s members. Think about it this way: try not to say “my staff” or “my team” but instead say “our team” because “our” is inclusive whereas “my” is possessive.
We don’t possess people that work at our organization and we certainly don’t possess our customers who are members of our larger community. Not everyone will get offended by this behavior. In fact, people in larger companies have likely not noticed it for years. But some will, and the larger the organization becomes, the more likely someone will be put off when we call them ours.
Some may read this and think it’s overly politically correct. Having gone through hyper-growth in companies and just slow, continued growth, it’s become apparent that we need to be as inclusive as we can be. The more people there are, the more these things matter. The more every voice needs to get heard. The more valuable those voices are. And the more the humans behind those voices appreciate being heard.
We also take on the success of others when we make the organization or team all about us. Celebrating their wins under the guise of our company diminishes their direct impact. People want to be impactful and to be seen.
There’s another aspect, which is shifting our minds away from the expectations we have for the organization. The organization ultimately serves the customers, the staff, and the shareholders. Early on that line is blurred with the founders being in some, if not all, of those roles. Later, making sure we serve the staff becomes more critical - and that certainly does not mean controlling them.
If we need to tell people the organization is ours, we should look inward at the insecurity that causes that behavior. We project a quiet, calm fortitude when we don’t need to boast and when we are careful of how others feel. Ultimately, that will win the hearts and minds of the teams of people that choose to be with us - and they will want to help us get through some of the tough times bound to come our way when we truly share in their success.