Teamwork is something we all know is important to many aspects of our lives. But in business it takes on new meanings. None of us can do what we’re doing (whatever it is) without the help of others. So why do we take credit for work that’s been done by a team but continually use “I” to describe our work?
Years ago I had a boss who advised me one day to always use “we” as it meant you wouldn’t have to take the blame when things went sideways. He rarely mentioned the need to say “we” to give credit to others, and even how a good boss says “I” to take responsibility for one’s mistakes. I tried hard not to follow his advice, and he didn’t last long at the company where we worked together. Believe it or not I’m grateful for his bad advice as it has helped me recognize the pronoun I use is important.
Seth Godin, whose blog posts always make me think, has a very succinct way to discuss this:
Instead of saying “I” when you’re ready to take credit, try “we.”
Instead of saying “we” when you’re avoiding responsibility, try “I.”
And, every time you’re tempted to depersonalize the impact of your actions, try “you,” while looking the impacted person in the eye.
I really love Godin’s addition of the “you” as it furthers demonstrates the importance of your word choice. Using “we” to take credit and “I” to accept responsibility definitely show leadership, but adding the “you” message also shows compassion and understanding of human nature.
But there is an “M” and an “E”
According to the Urban Dictionary, the phrase has been amended today with the line “but there is an M and an E.” While true, that there is an M and an E, I don’t agree we should place more emphasis on ourselves and what we do than we should on others. That’s the easy way. Most of us already think about ourselves too much and don’t need an excuse to do it more.
Let’s go back to the original and think about how we can change our daily lives to make sure we’re giving credit where it’s due and also taking responsibility for our actions. In 2015, Pope Francis asked us all to give up our indifference to others for Lent. That’s a really good focus for our actions any time of year. If we look to others for guidance and to see what’s needed, we’re more likely to become better people and take better care of our world.
How are you focusing on “we” and “you” instead of on “me” and “I”? What changes are you making in your work and your personal life?