We vs I: The true leadership mantra

‘We vs I’ has been behind the curtains and not something that was seen as a key skill set for leaders a few years back. This topic would either find no supporters or would be seen as a bizarre idea in leadership development conversations some time ago. The reason being pretty simple- A leader needed to be an Alpha Leader- someone who would lead by control and was only expected to focus on getting his/her work done. Team bonding and building personal rapport wasn’t important as leaders were expected to have all the control and maintain the professional decorum so to ensure that the team members do not get comfortable in their skin.

I remember a leader mentioning to me a few years back- ‘I need to ensure that you are not comfortable in your role. If you are, you will not deliver as great results as you are doing right now.’ A very bizarre comment but it clearly indicates the leadership style that many leaders followed- where it would not be about ‘we’, but always about the leader having all the control and taking all the credit for the great work done by his team.

Why it cannot be ‘I’?

As per researchers and psychologists, it is when people feel insecure and diminished, that they look inwards and work with ‘I’ as the centre of whatever they do. Leaders who are more about personal praises are generally seen as under-confident, insecure and not the ones who can get the best out of their team members. They are easy to identify- as they will be very bossy in their approach, will not take a differentiated point of view and use more of first person singular pronouns like ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’. They are the ones who are only interested in themselves and don’t mind snatching credit from their team members, so as to be seen in good light. These leaders are also the arrogant lot and end up focusing on only near-term results.

On the other hand, the leaders who use ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘you’ are more outward focussed and tend to emerge as better and more popular leaders. They demonstrate a people’s orientation and tend to build cohesive teams that can deliver best results, even in challenging times. The kind of leader is also successful with dispersed teams that can only connect for a few hours every week and end up not seeing each other in person at all.

Interesting, the leadership approach has a direct impact on a company’s business relationships. I recently read a blog by a marketing guru who mentioned that simply by switching from “I” to “we”, a business leader can change the way his company interacts with its customers and partners.

The evolved workforce and the rise of ‘we’ leaders

Today’s workforce has a mix of Millennials and Gen Z. These generations are very different from the earlier ones- Millennials are clear about their focus in life and Gen Z believe in following their calling more than the earlier generations. For a leader to get the best out of these two, it is imperative to change the approach from an Alpha CEO to a popular leader. Leaders need to move away from ‘I need to know it all’ approach to trusting their team members on delivering the assigned tasks.

A cohesive team isn’t easy to build- in the times of social media and with the Gen Z who are always bombarded with a lot of information. They need leaders who can give them constant feedback, guide them for their professional career, empower them and trust them. All this is only possible with the ‘we’ leaders as they are the ones who do not shy away from giving the power and independence to their team members to run specific projects. Also, they are the perfect mentors for Millennials and Gen Z.

Pandemic and how ‘we’ leaders became important

Last year, the pandemic pushed all of us into unpredictable times, with billions locked in their homes for months. Uncertainty and loneliness came knocking at the doors of millions. From a professional standpoint, organisations had no option but to adopt work from home. Leaders were forced to let go of micromanagement and trust their team members to deliver the tasks as per agreed timelines. The extra follow-ups and nagging slowly faded away. As people saw those in their close network falling prey to Covid, leaders became more humane in their approach and flexible with their team members. The leadership style also saw a sea of change (in a lot of cases driven by the circumstances) with leaders focussing on collective goodwill and growth. Organisations also focussed on the larger purpose and not on only selling their products.

Leadership evolved from not being just about hiring the best in the business, but about putting together a team that is ready for the battle at any given point in time. Over the last one year, businesses across industries have seen unpredictable and difficult phases and it is the leaders who followed the ‘we’ approach who delivered better than the self-obsessed, snooty, control-freak leader.

To conclude..

There are numerous researches that highlight that it is the ‘we’ leader who is more successful that the ‘I’ leader. The golden rule is, use ‘I’ to take the blame and ‘us’ for accepting praises. To be able to sail through the unpredictable times, leaders should focus on ‘we’ and a more people-centric approach. This will help them get the best of their teams and in turn, create a positive work environment.

The future belongs to ‘we’ leaders who focus on the growth and well-being of the communities to which they belong. Such leaders don’t have big egos and hence, are able to work well with Millennials and Gen Z. With organisational purpose taking centre stage, ‘we’ leaders become even more important as they are able to align their decision making to the overall purpose/business strategy.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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