"I" vs "We"

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 means retention. There are plenty of ways that we can inspire teams. And there are entire books on doing so. Accolades, training, great communications, doing what you say you’ll do, focusing on the purpose of the organization, and dozens (if not hundreds) of other motivators help keep people engaged, inspired, and active within your community. But there are also demotivates that we do all the time that can be off-putting to some (although not to all).

One of those is using the words “I” or “My” when referencing the organization, the activities of the organization, or the organization’s members. Think of this, when I’m at work, I actively try not to say “my staff” or “my team” but instead say “our team” because “our” is inclusive whereas “my” is possessive. You don’t possess volunteers or staff, they are there at their whim and will leave if offended. And not everyone will get offended by feeling they are with you nor take that connotation. But some will, and the larger the organization becomes, the more likely someone will be put off by calling them yours.

Also, unless you own a for-profit company, it’s not your organization. And even if you do own a for-profit, once there’s more people involved than just you, referring to the organization as “ours” instead of “mine” builds cohesiveness through inclusion. When people hear you speak in public and you say “I” it sparks a sense of hero worship in you. And that’s exhilarating. But when they hear you say “our” in public (especially in articles or interviews) they feel pride for the organization as a whole. And when people who aren’t part of the organization hear that, they are more likely to want to be a part of the organization.

I’ve had this discussion with business owners and entrepreneurs for decades. And occasionally I get a dissenting opinion, which is that “they need to believe in me.” My answer is usually “not like that.” People need to see that a leader brings action and takes on added burden while sharing the accolades with the teams around them.

Words matter. We’ve stopped using a lot of words and phrases over the years for a myriad of reasons. If you want to lead, and alienate as few as possible, then think about how you refer to the organization you’ve chosen to found/start/lead/join. It’s a small thing, but just another example of expanding our philosophy of the world around us and how we operate in it.

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