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I” is a very powerful pronoun, but it has two distinct personalities – no doubt you have observed both.

I” can be used to convey power and significance to the subject at hand – the speaker is going all in as the poker players would say – infusing their knowledge, experience, and reputation into the statement. They are signaling commitment and purpose. Some examples:

I know (personal knowledge)

I learned (personal experience)

My (I) vision (path to the future)

I will (personal commitment)

I promise (personal assurance).

Used in this fashion “I” creates a spotlight and the speaker is center stage – everyone else is outside the circle of light – in the shadows, unnoticed. “I” is inclusive of you and exclusive of all others.

Thus, the second personality – as strong as the pronoun is to focus attention on you, it is equally as powerful for excluding the others from being acknowledged. Please consider the message in the following:

I grew the revenue

I won the contract

I increased sales

I launched the new product line

I developed the new service.

If you were leading a successful team, department, division, or organization, your “I” contributes to the outcome but the accomplishment of others are significant factors in achieving the great results. Using “I” ignores the others, even when their participation is assumed or implied.

The use of “WE” is inclusionary, bringing the other contributors into the picture, sharing credit for attaining the goal.

Great leaders are mindful that the effective use of “I” can can build credibility with customers and stronger team bonds without diminishing leadership effectiveness or awareness.

The leaders' adage is: share the credit for success, but be first to accept the blame for mistakes. The corollary is “I” is a solo spotlight, but “WE” shares the glory.

To illustrate the two faces of “I”, recall the reaction to an organization's leader who repeatedly says “I” while speaking about the success of the organization; now recall the reaction when listening to a leader who talks about how “WE” achieved superior results. Which approach is more effective? For customers; for employees?

Great leaders share the spotlight with sincerity and avoid the ego trap of rhetorically claiming sole credit for success.

Entertaining experience - Sales Lab Video Channel

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Tags: Communications, Effective, Inclusion, Leadership, Speaking, leadership

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Comment by Dick Davies on November 2, 2013 at 11:04am

Wrong use of "I" and "we" goes both ways. From the memory of the guy who wasn't there to the false modesty to try to include yourself with "we," what works is to do the work.

Comment by Dale M. Posthumus on October 31, 2013 at 8:46pm

I am in general agreement. However, there is a negative to the "we" as well. I think we all have been in the situation where the results of a group of people pulled together and called a "team" was actually dependent upon one or some other fraction of the team. Not everyone "commits" or "pulls their own weight". Exclusion and inclusion are both positive and negative, depending upon the context. The leader understands all of this and uses this understanding judiciously.

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