I am a fortunate man. I spend time with the America’s finest leaders teaching leadership courses at Air University (online and in-residence), working with Auburn, GiANT Worldwide, Harvard, Cambridge—I get to learn from some of the finest leaders in the world. BUT, something that seems to come up in every class is when to use “I” versus “we” in public forums. The “ME” monster lives large in almost every organization out there.
The use of the word “ME” is a good point of debate and discussion. When do we cross the line between being all about ME and all about WE in taking care of our folks and letting them know we care?
I have spent a bit of time reviewing what the experts think on when to use “I” and “We” in public communications: My Squadron vs OUR Squadron, My DO, My Airmen, My Commander’s Call, etc.
It is evident that communications can make or break us as leaders. Simply put, many leaders mistakenly act as if big public communications are all about themselves, while their teams think that communications should be about them.
We need to be sensitive to the number of “I’s” versus “we’s” that the we use. Our teams want leaders to be forceful and decisive in taking responsibility for improving the situation. This requires a few strong “I’s,” such as “I will.”
So how do we know when to use “we” and when to use “I”?
It’s important to use “we” when describing positive accomplishments, and “I” when taking responsibility for stumbles, mistakes, and/or indicating strong resolve to make changes. The people on our team know the difference, and they really are listening carefully.
Command in the military is an amazing opportunity and prior to my first command, I spent a good bit of time pondering principles of command and subsequently published those for the squadron members to read. One of the top principles—“Credit for success belongs to everyone, and if possible—pushed to the lowest ranking member. Credit for failure belongs to the senior leader present.” If leaders can truly live this principle—the Me Monster will die a certain death.
Take a look at this video from Brian Regan, and please don’t be THAT GUY.