Simple little pronouns.
As leaders we do a lot of thinking about what we say and how we say it – we want to make sure our messages and directions are understood. We also want our words to inspire and motivate.
So we tend to focus on the larger words – the action verbs, the descriptive adjectives, or the key nouns that will get the job done.
And, in turn, when we listen to our teammates, the tendency is to have that same kind of focus on the bigger picture.
But there’s much to be learned (and gained) by putting a similar focus on those pronouns, because they can reveal so much.
They reveal a point of view – an attitude – a prevailing feeling – and, ultimately, tell much about a team culture.
Let’s start with the simplest one of them all, and also the most complicated: “I”
This word reduces the frame of reference to a single person- too much use of it indicates a lot of egos in the room, and/or an “every person for themselves” culture. If we as leaders use it too much, it can send a powerful signal of exclusion rather than inclusion (i.e. “this is all about me”)
Then there is “You”. This is a tricky one, since there are both good and bad things we can to take from it. For those who want to lead with a personal and inclusive style, this word cannot be used as a substitute for someone’s name (e.g. the “hey you” declaration). Or use it as a verbal jab to point the finger at other people (instead of themselves). We would rather use it (and hear it) paired with the word “Thank”, or “did a good job”.
Next, there’s “They”
In my experience, this is a key indicator of team and company harmony. If we’re hearing that a lot from our direct reports, we likely have a “silo” problem between departments that really needs to be addressed. If our reports and other managers use this word a lot with field employees, we have a huge “buy-in” problem with company policies and directives. Or, company-wide, there’s a big “blame game” going on.
It’s just not a good word in a team environment – I got to the point where I’d call somebody out on it nearly every time I heard it in the “silo” and “buy-in” contexts.
Because, I wanted them to use my favorite pronoun, “We”
Now there’s a word we all can wrap our arms around – it’s probably the most important word in our leadership vocabulary.
It indicates “buy in” at all levels of management.
It shows that our egos are being “checked at the door”.
It tears down the silos.
It builds a team culture.
All that with one little pronoun.
As your leadership journey continues, be sure to stay keenly aware of how you use these pronouns, and train your ears to hear these words (and divine their connotations) from your teammates.
Because they can make or break you.