More “we, us and our” and less “I, me and my”

Good business leaders live by this rule, politicians not so much

Spoiler Alert: The following observations are non-partisan and apply to all parties and sides in politics and business. If the foot fits in your mouth, learn from it.

Some of the best lessons in business and life can be learned by watching how others do something important wrong. During the onslaught of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis, an invaluable takeaway has been how leaders and “newsmakers” make serious communication blunders.

Every CEO or business leader soon learns that to win over an audience, a team or customers, the message must be about what he or she is doing (or will do) for the listener. Reality is, first and foremost, people care about what is in it for them or theirs.

Whether one is selling pots and pans ata flea market or hawking the next best thing since sliced bread, the final hurdle in connecting with the audience is to make sure the message illustrates a benefit to listeners. The most effective communicators intuitively know how to make themselves subordinate to the main message. For example, which is more effective to say?Here is how I made my millions,” or, “Here is how youcan make your millions.” The answer is obvious: it must be all about you, not me.

To create and grow a successful company, it takes a team. A superstar here and there doesn’t hurt, but getting the big jobs done is rarely a solo operation.

The unprecedented COVID-19 scourge, compounded by the traditional rhetoric of an election year, has resulted in a surprising and periodically shocking choice of words from many presumably smart people. The most self-defeating: the personal pronouns I, me and my.

As in, “only I can do this or that,” “this happened because of me,” or, “my team is the only one that can succeed.” Legendary Mohammed Ali, the undisputed boxing great, always proclaimed in public, “I am the greatest.” The only difference between Ali and ego-centric politicians and business leaders is that Ali likely didn’t believe he was the greatest, and spoke in glaring absurdities as part of his schtick, while some politicians and business leaders are either delusional, inept or naïvely unenlightened.

We can learn a great deal from the current health crisis and the political season. In times of intense difficulty, the vast majority want to feel included and part of solutions in terms of what we can do to overcome our problem working together.

Business leaders worth their salt avoid, at all costs, the pitfalls of non-inclusive language. The misuse of the letter “I” can make the difference between convincing or dissuading listeners, followers or the uncommitted.

There is one major exception to this rule. An aware and attuned leader knows that when something goes sour, it’s time to stand up and squarely take responsibility. That’s when “I,” “me” and “my” are not only appropriate but can invoke others to line up behind those who inspire confidence. A true leader knows how to share the good and lead through the bad.

The fundamental rule to follow is this: When things are good, it’s “us,” and when things are bad, it’s “me.” This is the correct use of pronouns that makes true leaders.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of
$5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max- Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses. Serving on a number of boards, Michael is a frequent national speaker, and author of the business books “The Benevolent Dictator” and his newest book ”Tips from the Top.” His long running nationally syndicated Smart Business magazine column has received more than 10 awards for excellence.