The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 11, 2013

Leaders, keep an eye on 'I'

"Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much." — Helen Keller

Have you ever listened to a leader give a talk to clients or customers and noticed how often he or she said "I" did this and "I" did that? When his/her staff are in the audience, I always wonder what they must think about this. Do they feel marginalized?

Setting the right tone can be difficult. In U.S. culture, we are taught to take credit for our individual work and to stand out in front of people so that they understand our personal contributions. We are taught to be aggressive in promoting our own accomplishments. We think that if we put the spotlight on our selves, that we will get promoted faster.

But while it is important to be confident, the reality is that when others, even higher-ups, hear all this "I" language, it is disconcerting to them. Rather than giving them an impression of our strengths, it highlights an arrogant side of us. And research shows that one of the attributes that can derail a leader is arrogance or boldness .

The Korn/Ferry Institute created a "Me-O-Meter" to try to describe when someone goes too far. If a leader uses the words "I", "me", and "my" (versus "we", "us", and "our") more than once in 15 minutes, they are considered egotists and not selfless leaders. Similarly, a Wall Street Journal article suggested that the more times a chief executive used the first-person pronouns (I, me, my) vs. we, us, our, the less likely the CEO was able to complete a mergers and acquisitions deal.

There are other issues as well. One of the chief downsides of all this self-promotion is that it can really demoralize a team. Staff members do not feel a part of things when the leader takes all the credit. An "I did this" mentality promotes more selfishness, and over time, leaders may even start believing more and more in their own hype, deluding themselves into feeling they really did do everything themselves.

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