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You Don’t Work for Me
The best leaders push an important point downward.
You work with me, not for me. Even leaders who excel at holding others accountable understand the importance of this distinction in how team members engage.
When people have it in their mind that they work for a leader, they operate differently. They wait for instructions, seek approval to make decisions, edit or filter what they say, and offer new ideas only when asked. This so-called boss effect creates a team of followers who wait to be directed anytime the leader is present, and often when they’re not.
As social animals, respecting authority and status is part of being human. The natural hierarchy of organizations and teams plays to this deference.
Fighting this reverence is what great leaders do.
By resisting the temptation to influence others by authority, position, and title, effective leaders create an inclusive environment where they work alongside team members in a collaborative atmosphere with a focus on quality and excellence, not status.
The first line of defense against unnecessary deference is the language leaders use to describe the relationship they most desire with team members. Inclusive leaders refer to themselves as the team leader, never the boss. Using the plural pronoun “We” suggests a leader who is a partner and not a boss. “You have a lot of work to do” becomes “We have a lot of work to do.”
Avoiding the ever-seductive descriptor “My” is something inclusive leaders are very conscious of. “My team, my people, my results“ get replaced with “Our Team, our colleagues, our results.”
Leaders who don’t think of team members as working for them are much more likely to defer to the judgment and subject matter expertise of others. They encourage the healthy exchange of ideas and viewpoints critical to quality decision-making. They remind themselves they are never the smartest person in the room because that undermines the willingness of others to contribute their candid opinions.
This all starts with the projection of who really works for whom. Objectively speaking, good leaders with experience secretly recognize that they work much harder for any given team member than that team member works for them. Why not admit it and act and speak accordingly?