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Selfish Mistake That's Hurting Your Team

The exact words you choose when talking about your company may seem insignificant, but they can have a huge effect on employee motivation, says Brad Feld.

As a business owner, you probably keep a keen eye out for your team's morale and avoid anything that can cause their motivation to take a hit. You carefully weigh compensation, think long and hard about rewards and recognition, and work to communicate the impact of your team's efforts. But are you missing one tiny and easily fixable thing that might be sucking the motivation out of your employees?

That's the question posted by VC Brad Feld on his consistently interesting blog this week. As a member of venture capital firm Foundry Group, Feld interacts with lots of entrepreneurs and CEOs and through personal experience has grown sensitive to a quirk of language used by many of them that, while small, has an outsize impact on their teams' motivation. He explains:

I saw an email from a CEO the other day. In it, he said “I” over and over again. There were numerous places where he referred to “my company," “my team," “my product," and “my plan.”

It bummed me out. I know the people on “his team,” and they are working their asses off. The company is an awesome company, and the CEO is a great leader. But there was a huge amount of “we” in the effort, and when I read the note, all I could think about was how demotivated I would be if I was on “his team” and heard “I, I, I.”

Several years ago, my partners at Foundry Group had an intervention with me where they asked me, as politely as they could, to stop using the word “I” when I referred to Foundry Group. I asked them why. Their response was simple--we were a team and every time I talked in public and said “I” instead of “we” it was demotivating. While we each have our own distinct personalities and behavior, Foundry Group is a team effort (Becky, Dave, Jason, Jill, Kelly, Ken, Melissa, Ross, Ryan, Seth, Tracie, and me), and when I said “I,” my speech and actions were undermining this.

They were completely, 100% correct…. If you are the CEO, recognize that there is a lot of “we” that is enabling you to be successful. Don’t get caught up in the “I”--it’s a trap that will only backfire on you over time.

Are you guilty of using "I" when you should be using "we"?

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Last updated: Jul 12, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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