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The We Test
Several years back my company was in a position to start hiring our first external sales managers. We had gotten pretty good at isolating talent & promoting internally, but looking for these folks outside the company was a new frontier. We spent time writing down every leadership competency that we valued, and we came to something like ~40 different attributes, which would have been totally unreasonable to try and judge any candidate against. We wound up widdling the list down to six, and in hindsight, we were really able to learn the majority about a candidate from just one. We called it “We over I”.
We learned later that we weren’t the radical thinkers we thought we were, and that there was plenty of writing & thought out there on this concept already, however, It didn’t make it any less powerful. The simple observance of whether someone spoke about their teams using “I” vs “We” was the most profound filter we had.
When a leader uses “I” constantly the below-surface-level motivation is generally tethered to some form of ego, which could be showmanship on one end or career advancement anxiety on the other. These are not things you want to deal with from your manager, as they are indicative of them being more focused on themselves vs their employees. On the other hand, folks who speak in the “we” are anchoring work product & outcomes to the collective, and what their team was able to accomplish with them as a contributor and not the sole superstar.
When you are evaluating the next person you will work for, keep an eye out for this. There are appropriate moments to use “I”, but never when describing something the team has done or is doing collectively. You can sniff out in interviews, Linkedin posts, & general conversation:
“We’re hiring” > “I’m hiring”
“Come work with us” > “Come work with me”
“We built the team” > “I built the team”
Always work for someone who is more concerned about your standing than their own. The “we” test is a great first place to start.