We, Not Me, Will Take You A Lot Further. Share The Credit.
In the realm of entrepreneurship, as in most endeavors that require a team effort to undertake successfully, a focus on “we,” not “me” will take you much further. Share the credit. Share the limelight.
Recently I was reminded of an entrepreneur with whom I used to work, who found it very difficult to use the words “we” and “us” and “our”. His preferred vocabulary included “I,” “me,” and “my”. I suppose that would have been OK, but for the fact that he needed the input, cooperation and collective effort of at least ten team members to successfully complete a project (a Merger/Acquisition transaction in this case). This created a couple of key problems.
First, given that the M&A transactions were quite complex and often involved tens of millions of dollars, many of the team members wanted to be recognized for their contributions and sacrifices (20-hour days at crunch time on a deal) in getting a deal done. The more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I” and effectively took credit for all that went well, the more certain team members became frustrated and demoralized. Since deals often lasted several months, even a year or more, as morale slid, mistakes and undermining behavior became more frequent and jeopardized the successful completion of many deals.
Second, and perhaps more important, the more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I,” the smaller he made his company seem in the eyes of current and prospective clients. It made it sound like the company was just him and his efforts, rather than the collective effort of a well-managed team with an effective leader. Since the company was often competing against bigger, better-known rivals to win deals, this had the potential to become a major issue in sales and marketing efforts.
In short, this entrepreneur’s desire to take credit for everything and receive personal recognition, rather than allowing his team to feel like an integral and important part of the company’s success, threatened to undermine the organization’s talent base, deal performance, and credibility in the marketplace.
I spent about eighteen months attempting to convince the entrepreneur that it would make sense to give credit to the team, rather than trying to continuously keep himself individually in the spotlight. When he’d send me documents to review that were loaded with “I,” I’d send him back a message along the lines of “change I to we and my to our”. When I’d hear him being self-congratulatory in meetings and sales calls, afterwards I’d gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) remind him that he needed to change his vocabulary and use the word “we” more. I’d emphasize to him that the only way for the company to grow was to build a strong, capable, motivated team. I’d tell him to share the credit and that there was no way to do it all individually, nor was there much rationale for pretending that was how it was happening.
I’d like to tell you that the story has a happy ending, but in fact, it did not end well. The entrepreneur had a hard time taking advice and continued to focus on himself and tout how great he was, rather than building up the people and the organization around him. He had an inability to understand how others perceived his words and actions, and a lack of desire to make much progress on improving in this area. His case was a bit extreme, almost to the point of being in sociopath territory.
Eventually, this entrepreneur ended up alienating everyone around him who could help him, including clients, prospects, employees, business associates, family members, and finally, me. I may have been the most “long-suffering” of the lot, as I looked at helping him improve as a personal challenge, but at the end of the day, he was not capable of changing and ended up with his business and the rest of his life in shambles. It’s been several years and he has not yet bounced back from this experience. Meanwhile, the team that was around him at that time has bounced back nicely. They did not suffer from the same “I-centered” personality flaw.
This is a cautionary tale. If you think you have some of the tendencies highlighted in this article, be careful. Be honest with yourself. Seek counsel from credible sources. Be willing to change, before you suffer a similar fate to that of the entrepreneur in this article. Share the credit for all that goes well in your business.
I look forward to your thoughts. Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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