The “We” Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is a team sport. Successful organizations are built on the collective effort of many talented and dedicated people. As leaders, we need to look for every opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of others. I’ve seen study after study that tells us that recognition and appreciation is very important to the culture that we are building – in some cases it is valued as highly as compensation and benefits. And yet there are countless instances where leaders shine the spotlight on themselves and take the credit for a successful endeavor. How does this manifest?

A business leader has been asked by a reporter how his company competed for and won a very large piece of business. Listen to how this statement sounds. “I have had a long-term relationship with the client and have worked for years to get to this point. I developed an innovative strategy that worked just as I thought it would. It’s all queued up so that all my employees have to do is execute.” A more thoughtful leader might have said it this way. “We have had a long-term relationship with the client, and our team worked hard to develop and implement an innovative strategy that was spot-on. Our entire organization had a hand in this success, and we are grateful to each and every team member for their contribution. We especially want to thank Alice Doe and John Smith who led the effort.” Notice the second statements did not contain the word “I” a single time? It was filled with the words “we” and “our.” It acknowledged the entire team and focused the spotlight on those team members who were at the forefront of the initiative.

What does it take to become a “We” Entrepreneur? First and foremost, we must have a genuine and authentic attitude about who gets the credit. If we are secure enough in our own skin, we check our ego at the door and do whatever we can to shine the spotlight on the good work provided by members of our team. This means that we must reverse some of the patterning we received as children. When I was young and attending school, we were praised for properly answering a question posed by the teacher. While there was nothing wrong with this, it did create an attention-craving atmosphere for some students. We wanted to receive the approval from an adult which was our proof that we were worthy of their accolades. Parents, teachers, coaches and a host of other adults were a party to this endless cycle.

Breaking out of the childhood approval-and-acceptance-seeking mode to become an authentic “We” Entrepreneur requires a couple of steps. First, we need to come to a deep understanding within ourselves that we are worthy. In the early years of my career this was a difficult concept because I had little to no experience. I felt a compelling need to prove to the world that I belonged in the big leagues. Eventually I found that when I excelled, my actions spoke louder than chest-beating. In other words, we develop the understanding of worthiness by challenging ourselves and steadily performing at high levels.

Once we have developed a strong sense of self-worth, we look for ways to focus on the accomplishments of others and celebrate when they occur. In other words, we fix the “inner” (me) first and then move to the “outer” (others). This will take practice. We won’t become adept at the “We” concept overnight as I, me, my and mine will creep in to our consciousness periodically. Here’s something that helped me and I still do to this day. When I write an e-mail, a text message, a letter or any other form of written communications, I review it before sending and remove any I, me, my and mine references and replace them with we, our and us, wherever that it makes sense. This approach helps keep me mindful of my mission to be a “We” Entrepreneur and spills over into my verbal communications as well. And after doing this for an extended period of time, it will be more than just a communications tool – you’ll really believe it! We will see the value in the contribution of others and be truly grateful. At that point our acknowledgement will become a genuine part of our persona.

The “We” Entrepreneur is gracious and unassuming. He or she is always appreciative of what others contribute to the success of the team and makes a special effort to shine the spotlight accordingly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Star Power

Question: I am part of a team working within my company. One of the members of this team is always getting the credit when we succeed. I don’t know what to do about this frustrating situation.

Answer: The most successful teams are those where no one is seeking the glory and each team member supports the others in every way possible. No one ever says, “That’s not my job.” When the team wins everyone wins. And conversely, a team loss is everyone’s loss. It’s not a single team member who is the hero or the goat.

I love going to restaurants where members of the wait staff cover for each other. One server may take my order but another re-fills my water glass when it’s empty. I always am hopeful that they share their gratuities because I feel as though I’m tipping the whole server team and not just one person. Contrast that with a restaurant where servers ignore all guests except those who they are serving directly. Southwest Airlines is also on my most-admired list. How many times have we seen flight attendants and pilots cleaning up the airplane as we deplane?

Unselfishness is an important element to the success of an entrepreneur. Hats off to those who make certain that members of their team are recognized and given credit for a successful outcome. An entrepreneur who can step back out of the limelight and heap accolades on his or her team is both wise and self-assured. When we crave attention and receive for the efforts of others, team morale can be severely damaged.

The question we must answer is, “what are we in it for?” Is it personal glory or gain? Or is it long-term, sustainable overall success that benefits an entire team or company? I submit that when our egos cry for personal attention and pats on the back, someday our team may not have our back. There will certainly be times when we are recognized for personal achievement and there is nothing wrong with this whatsoever. The fine line here is our intention and how we handle it. Did we seek the recognition or was it a byproduct of our efforts? And, when the wonderful things were being said about us, did we acknowledge others who contributed to our (and the team’s) success? But this can be a trap if we aren’t walking the talk. It’s interesting to watch a ball game where a star player is being interviewed at the conclusion of the event and he appears to deflect the praise by mentioning how much his teammates figured into his success. The incongruence in his statement is that his play throughout the game reflected selfishness.

Whether in our entrepreneurial venues or with life in general, we are best served when we subordinate our egos to an attitude of gracious selflessness. Stepping off the stage and genuinely giving credit to others who deserve it is a demonstration of real star power.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.