Small Business and Startups: Managing the I, You, We

The smallest of small businesses are operated by one or two people, and are wildly efficient. When one are operating a business out of your kitchen or spare bedroom, she tends to be master of all domains, have everything within reach, and gets done whatever it is that needs to be done. However, as soon as a business moves from the realm of “the one” it becomes necessary to change not just the approach in how things get done, but also the language and approach surrounding activities. Great managers tend to use the pronouns “we,” “you” and “us”  a great deal of the time and their approach de-emphasizes (though never completely removes) the “I” and the “me.”

To build, manage, and get the most out of teams, leaders need to find balance in how they communicate with the team and how they operate personally and this starts with language. The pronouns used signal a manager’s attitude and approach go a long way to building great teams. This is not to say that leaders should never use “I” or should always avoid the “me.” Startup founders, departmental managers, CEOs and anyone else with direct responsibility for an organization large or small have certain traits in common. Necessary to a management role is a strong and healthy regard for one’s self and a (hopefully) benevolent egocentrism that drives ambition and fuels leadership. A large part of the success a great manager fuels is built around their own personal drive and desire for glory. But that drive, that ambition can not exist in a vacuum; without meaningful accomplishments, personal glory can never be achieved, and without the impulse to achieve, very little can be accomplished.

Equally important for managers  is the pronoun “you.” Strong managers understand the importance of delegation, and shared responsibility and it all begins with “you.” Training, mentoring, assigning tasks are the role of a leader and the better one is at this part of management, the greater the productivity achieved, the better the outcomes, and the stronger the bond. This is the basis of mentorship and any successful protege will tell you that it is the guidance they received coupled with the responsibility they were given that led to that success.

“We” is the team. This can be as small as two individuals (Me and You) or as large as an entire enterprise. We signifies a shared mission, participation, and cooperation. The concept of “we” is critical to the success of any enterprise consisting of more than one person, and the best managers understand how the word “we” can act as a powerful motivator. When the entire team shares a mission, and works together to achieve common goals, the sum will always be greater than the individual parts.

Finally, great leaders understand the magic of “Us” and how it transcends “we.” Us represents all stakeholders in an organization: managers, workers, suppliers, investors, and customers. To be successful with us requires a manager to cultivate a sense of collective purpose, and to define and understand the common good that can be achieved for everyone that touches an enterprise, large or small.

 Illustration: We Can Do It!, J. Howard Miller/Wikipedia