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Putting the "we" in leadership

| by Mike Mowery

Who would have thought that what you learned in sixth-grade English class would turn out to be such an important leadership lesson? I’m talking about pronouns. 

Not long ago I heard an experienced leader say something really profound. He said, “I try to watch my pronouns.” He went on to explain that when he was speaking to the board about something that was successful he tried to say, “He did it” or “She did it.” (Notice that he intentionally didn’t say, “I did it” or even “We did it.”)

If he spoke about something that didn’t go well, he intentionally said, “We made a mistake” or “It didn’t turn out the way we expected.” (Notice that he didn’t say, “They made a mistake.”) It’s called watching your pronouns.

It’s also called, “Having their back” or “Modeling the way.” Really, it’s just called leadership.

Real leaders don’t throw the people that work for them under the bus. They don’t play the blame game, and they aren’t afraid to step up and shoulder their share of the blame and maybe more than their fair share.

It's been said that a leader is someone who is willing to take more than his or her fair share of blame and less than his or her fair share of credit. 

It seems counterintuitive, and I’ve noticed that insecure leaders feel a lot of anxiety and consternation when it seems like someone (anyone!) is not giving them the credit that they feel they deserve. 

However, the intended outcome is rarely the actual outcome. Why? Because people sense the leader’s anxiety—and that causes people to lose a little respect for the leader. Not because he doesn’t seem to be getting the credit that he deserves, but rather because the leader subtly communicates that he doesn’t feel like he’s getting the credit he deserves. 

On the other hand, if a leader is generous when she’s sharing the spotlight, it actually causes others to respect her even more.

Real leaders don’t have to be in the spotlight.  They relish seeing other people receive the credit.  They aren’t so insecure that they keep their place by keeping others pushed down.  Instead, they not only help others to do more with less, but they also don’t mind when others get their fair share of the glory—or maybe even more than their fair share.

I think this may be what Proverbs 18:1 is getting at.

“He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom” (Proverbs 18:1 NASB95). 

When you attempt to take the credit, rather than sharing it, or when you shun the blame rather than shouldering it, you are trying to separate yourself. You are distancing yourself from the others. To do so is to go against all sound wisdom.

So watch your pronouns. It might just make you a better leader!

Photo source: istock 

Mike Mowery

Dr. Mike Mowery is the President of Servant Leadership Implementation for SGR, a leadership development company that develops leaders for local governments. He is a graduate of Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gateway Seminary. Mike has been a student of leadership for over 25 years. He has pastored churches in Colorado and Texas and now serves as an interim pastor. He has a passion for helping leaders be more successful through encouragement, love, and truth. Mike and his wife, Mary Beth, live in Grapevine, Texas, and have three grown children and two young granddaughters.

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