This post was originally started about 10 months ago – I found it deep in my “drafts” list (it is actually the oldest draft I have left). I sometimes resurrect these posts under my “Draft Necro” series because hey, not all posts deserve to rot away in draft folder hell. I typically preamble them in italics like this to explain why I started the post, and what happened. On this one, I read a developer interview and he used the word “I” so much I was pulling my hair out. That is what inspired the post! It sat in draft hell for so long because I couldn’t recall who I was reading about and lost the link to the article (normally I would email myself the link). So at the end of the day, I had a premise I wanted to share but no supporting material. In this final incantation of the post, I used myself getting a business award as the example, but it completely lost it’s video game slant. I really wanted to find that article because those who have read me for a long time know how I feel about “rockstar” developers and this smelled of that. Anyhow, the post ended up a lot weaker than I had wanted without the video game tie in so it sat… and sat. Now I am freeing it in all of it’s mediocrity!
I have a friend who is a consultant, and I recently saw him spoke at a convention. It was a smaller one, and a pretty “warm and cozy” environment. As he was talking about his past achievements to the group there was one word that kept coming up that I heard over and over, and it is the one word that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to me whenever a business person uses it. That word, is of course, “I”. Now, unless you are working in a true company of one and not enlisting the help of any individual or organization, then “I” is okay. But that is the only time it is okay. When he asked how his presentation came across I told him that he used “I” far too often and that leaders don’t use that word when talking about accomplishments. Business leaders only should use “I” when taking personal responsibility for an accountability or a mistake. It is also okay to use the word “I” when taking accountability for a mistake the team made that the leader was ultimately responsible for – that is also good leadership, showing that they will take the heat for a team member.
He understood and appreciated the sentiment. Nothing is more disappointing than hearing a business leader speak about his accomplishments when he has a team of 10s, 100s, or 1000s. Those people typically never use the better word, the truth, “we”. “We” should be common tongue for people in business, things are never done on their own or in their own petri dish. It’s a big, interconnected world out there. They also tend to use the other “worse” word business people can use, “they”. I did my job, “they” didn’t do theirs. “I” and “they” are two words any aspiring entrepreneur should lose fast, or at least find the right and proper spaces to use.
The one problem with all of this pronoun discussion is how genuine the leader is. Some corporate leaders are well trained and say “we” all the time, when deep down inside the honestly believe that the success of their 50 year old brand that has 10,000 employees is the decisions they personally make at breakfast. It is neat to try and read through the lines and see the egos behind companies and their successes. (Good to Great, by Jim Collins, talks a lot about “rockstar” CEOs and their effect on the companies they parachute into). I was also curious if one could find patterns in people based on successes and outlooks. For example, before a launch, are the bigwigs saying “I, I, I” and during launch saying “we, we we,” and after things didn’t launch so smoothly say “they, they, they?” – I did a bunch of google fu and didn’t find that so was very happy. Either way, I spend a lot of team reading how people say things, not just what they say.
Moral of the post? Share the wins, be humble, be good to people. Everyone works hard – the “leader” always gets too much of the credit when things go well. This tends to be true in any type of group setting.