When leaders need to replace “I” with “we”

Eloise Keating /

Switching the pronouns they use is one of most profound ways a business leader can improve their way their company interacts with its customers and partners, according to marketing guru Seth Godin.

In a blog post published this week, Godin said using more inclusive language can have a powerful effect within organisations.

“Instead of saying ‘I’ when you’re ready to take credit, try ‘we’,” he said.

“Instead of saying ‘we’ when you’re avoiding responsibility, try ‘I’.”

“And every time you’re tempted to depersonalise the impact of your actions, try ‘you’ while looking the impacted person in the eye.”

Author David Burkus previously considered the use of pronouns in workplaces for the Harvard Business Review, citing research in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology that found individuals with higher level positions within organisations tend to use more first-person plural pronouns, such as “we”, or second-person pronouns, such as “you”, when compared to individuals in lower level positions, who were more likely to use the first-person singular pronoun “I”.

While Burkus said the study highlighted the importance of those in leadership positions being orientated towards others.

“While switching from singular ‘I’ to the plural ‘we’ may not make you a king or win you a premiership, it might help shift your perspective from self-focused to others-focused, make you more aware of the needs of others and, as you work to meet those needs, might just make you a better leader,” he said.


Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.