Preparing the Inc. 500 issue is like studying abroad: an immersive education in the psychology and language of a foreign people. Over the course of a month, I typically interview around 40 growth-company founders, some flanked by silent but vigilant PR reps, others speaking solo and with gusto in their first-ever national-media gigs. While it’s tough to get a read on someone’s personality in a 45-minute conversation, one indicator is his or her pronoun of choice. You’ve got your “I” people. You’ve got your “we” people. And you’ve got your “who-did-what” people, who for a journalist are like gold.

Actually, an “I” person can be fun if a story subject’s narcissism provides lots of colorful, character-establishing quotes or other bits of business. “I” people also tend to be comfortable telling tales on themselves and owning up to errors, which makes them more interesting both to others and--I can’t help but think--to themselves. (On the far side of success, who doesn't find their transient failures forgivable--even endearing?) Still, from a reporter’s perspective, watching egos on parade gets old and somewhat dispiriting. You’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs give even their partners only the most cursory mention, as though they are living up to the myth of the heroic lone entrepreneur, which precludes the introduction of distracting ancillary characters. In the course of an hour’s conversation, one guy I interviewed this year said nothing about his wife, who is listed on the company’s web site as co-founder. When I finally asked about her, he said she’d helped out financially and by being supportive. Thus he retained absolute control of the narrative, relegating all others to footnotes.

“I” entrepreneurs, while still plentiful, have been eclipsed by “we” entrepreneurs in the 17 years since I first reported on the Inc. 500. That’s not surprising. Leadership fashion, after all, has trended away from power and dominance and toward humility and collaboration. But while “I” entrepreneurs can be irritating, the “we” variety are frustrating and often bland. They go to great lengths to take credit for nothing lest they be perceived as taking credit for everything. “The team did it all; the team deserves the credit; to understand anything about this business you have to come here and meet the team.” For an article about entrepreneurial psychology in this issue I explained to interview subjects that I was after what they personally thought, how they personally felt, and why they personally made particular decisions. Even with that preamble, several still fell back on the amorphous “we.” (A subset of “we” people are clearly “I” people who have been warned about sounding too full of themselves and, as they talk, are conscientiously substituting “we” for “I” like human find-replace mechanisms. I can usually identify these folks because “we” comes off as the “royal we.”)

“Who-did-what” entrepreneurs are not shy about their own accomplishments. They know they are the stars of the movies in question, and at the right dramatic moments they are ready for their close-ups. But they also acknowledge their co-stars and supporting actors, usually at the moments of those players’ contributions. “After a month using the beta, Claire Murch, the CIO over at Zarcom, called me up and told me we were completely missing our biggest opportunity.” “I thought we weren’t going to make payroll. Then Stan Sneed, one of two sales reps at the time, went out and saved our bacon.” “Who-did-what” entrepreneurs sometimes forget outsiders don’t know the business like they do and get mired in details or inside-baseball references. But asking questions solves that problem. I generally come away from such conversations with a pretty good idea of what actually happened and whether or not it’s interesting.

So founders (and founders’ publicists) take note. The story shouldn’t be all about you because it isn’t all about you. But a lot of it is about you--that’s why the world finds entrepreneurs so fascinating. Close your eyes. Play the movie in your head. Describe the action: who enters, who exits, who matters.

I fear the opening paragraph of this post may imply that I compile the Inc. 500 issue alone. The opposite is true: I am one tiny part of a large and talented team.