It is a topic that will not go away for me. I keep kicking out against the cult of ‘we.’
[For the record, I have to keep stating that I have nothing against the power of us, the team, the collective. Nothing is properly fulfilled in isolation.]
The problem with “We are…”
1. It disempowers our peculiar, unique genius, that zinging spark that is triggering 1845 times a second in our neural cortex.
“I am…” however…
Wow. I can sense someone about to pick themselves, with power, speaking to truth. As Susan Howson states, “I am – the two most powerful words in the world, for whatever we put after them becomes our reality.”
“I am – the two most powerful words in the world, for whatever we put after them becomes our reality.” Susan Howson
— John Hagel (@jhagel) November 30, 2014
Now we’re talking. What reality do I want to create? What outcomes, what impacts? As I wrote before on this topic:
The creative opportunity is mine, it is something I can work out and through, and then gift it to the organization. It is within my mandate to test, decide, learn, understand. That is the “I…” that does not compete with the “we…” but instead adds to it.
As a “professional” (cough) communicator, I also take umbrage.
2. It squeezes passion from our voice.
The erudite and understated David Gurteen recently wrote on this topic.
I am told that I use the word “I” far too much and that it is a sign of narcissism.
I find this amusing as I quite deliberately use the word. I strive to avoid the passive voice.
In the early days it was feedback from a friend who said, “Hey David, I love your newsletter but it is so much more interesting and authentic when you are ‘yourself’ and speak in ‘your own voice’ about something you feel passionate about”. That helped convince me to write in the first person.
3. It makes us weird.
Gurteen also references Cluetrain:
We have been trained throughout our business careers to suppress our individual voice and to sound like a ‘professional’, that is, to sound like everyone else. This professional voice is distinctive. And weird.
Indeed it is. Occasionally I find myself talking to my family using these fake, hybrid constructs that are from some kind of MBA textbook. Weird.
Those words and sentences are veneers. They keep people away, as corporatespeak intends. Corporate leaders love it, because they never have to say what they believe.
4. It flattens the dimensionality of leaders.
The closest most business leaders get to an authentic voice is to replace <entity name…> with “we…”, where we still means <entity name> not the collective of individuals therein, them included.
“I am…” however…
Hey, I’ll give them the time of day. I’ll give them a chance.
5. It makes water carriers of communicators.
In a recent presentation, I included this aside:
Social business, of course, has an outcome for “us” – but never by sharing and writing on behalf of everyone. Instead, it is an amalgam of all the individual voices, all those “I am…”s, their themes curated and collated.
Now is the time for more #SkinInTheGame by us all, communicators too. That personal voice – shared with humility and hope – will make leaders of us all.
“I am…” What about you?
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