Nike’s corporate tag line is “Just Do It.” And that could be the tag line for many companies of all sizes. Leaders at all levels send the message of “Just Do It” to their “charges.” This notion boils down to a command and control style of management. And I probably don’t need to point out how poorly this approach works with today’s Millennial workforce. We Boomers grew up in this environment and may have a tendency to continue its practice. Perhaps it’s time for something different.
I know that many entrepreneurs agree in principle with a more collaborative style of leadership. Yet, the language that is used may belie this agreement. Examine the following statement that rolls up many of the words used into a massive contradiction with collaboration. Mr. Smith is a senior executive with the ABC Company and he’s describing a recent business win for his company.
“My employees really came through with this project. I have a hundred people working under me and every one of them did their jobs like they were supposed to. I set their goals and they achieved them. I’ve been focused on this opportunity for a long time. I love winning this way!”
At first blush Mr. Smith seems to be giving credit for the win to others. But the way he says it indicates that he isn’t yet a convert to a more enlightened style of leadership. Note the highlighted words. It’s pretty clear that he’s in charge here and other people have done his bidding.
Entrepreneurs can change this narrative. When we are comfortable in our own skin we are easily able to eliminate the unhealthy aspects of our ego from our interactions with others. It’s often the case that having to take the credit for an accomplishment or reinforcing the fact that we were “at the top of the food chain” is a result of our own lack of confidence or some other insecurity. With our new level of comfort we are able to relax, smile and become totally humble.
Here’s another version of the previous statement. Mr. Doe is a senior executive with XYZ, Inc. and is celebrating a recent success.
“The XYZ team is amazing! They worked together to establish the goal and drew upon our Core Values to develop a winning strategy. We are so appreciative of each and every one of the hundred team members who worked tirelessly on this project for more than a year. Their commitment, dedication and creativity are the reasons for our success.”
Sounds a little different doesn’t it? There’s not a single mention of the words “I,” “me” or “my.” The word “employee” has been replaced with “team member.” Mr. Doe simply delivers the message without allowing his ego to enter the picture. It’s clear that Mr. Doe’s team members work “with” him – not “under” him. I’ve written before about how we need to be intentional about modifying our vernacular away from “I,” “me,” and “my,” and changing to “we,” “us,” and “our.”
Collaborative leadership is not decision making by committee – as a leader we still make the ultimate critical decisions. Collaborative leadership is about seeking out team members and listening to their thoughts and ideas. It is valuing others as human beings and the contribution they make to the enterprise. It is about having empathy and creating a culture of respect. And it is about using the words we say as a reflection of all of these factors.
When we think about what we write and say we can ask ourselves this simple question – “Do my words focus the spotlight on me or on others?” Doing so helps us move away from the old command and control approach of the past.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.