“We Not Me”… A Leadership Lesson From a 14-Year Old

We Not Me poster

As a father, I find myself constantly rediscovering fundamental leadership principles by simply observing the actions of my teenage daughters.

While driving home from a soccer game recently, I glanced over and noticed that my youngest child had written on the back of her hand the letters “WNM” with what appeared to be a Sharpie.

When I asked what the letters meant, she told me that before the game started, her coach asked the entire team to write these letters so as they were playing each girl would look down, see her hand and be reminded that above all, the game is about “‘WeNotMe‘.”

The team either wins together or they lose together.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Her coach does not tolerate players bragging about their own strengths or blaming others for their weaknesses. If a teammate is struggling on the field, the expectation is that her fellow players will give support and be in place to help when needed.

In the workplace, I am sure that most of us know several people who have been promoted into supervisory roles who could have used some more insights like my daughter’s coach provided her team. These workplace bosses could be much stronger leaders simply by implementing some basic concepts such as “WNM.”

The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” ~John Wooden

Fortunately, the company where I work has a strong “We” culture that comes directly from the top. The leaders of the firm that I respect the most tend to be very generous with the word “We,” thus giving junior team members credit for the team’s successes and accepting their own share of responsibility when the team comes up short.

I have also seen others obtain a title by being technical experts and behave as though they believe they should automatically be respected as “leaders.”  While these people obviously deserve respect for their technical accomplishments, it is puzzling how many of them apparently still feel the need to prove themselves.

These tend to be the folks who:

  • Chronically use the word “I” in their conversations and presentations
  • Dominate the conversation and show little awareness of this behavior
  • Frequently take credit for the work of others (whether they realize it or not)

No Credit Crisis

Leaders are often very confident people. They are confident in their abilities, in their relationships with customers, and in most aspects of what they do. However, leaders who lack confidence in themselves can sometimes feel reluctant to give credit to junior members of the team in front of that customer. This shouldn’t be the case.

The case should be that a leader extends their personal confidence to trusted members of their team by giving credit where it is due.

Giving credit where credit is due helps to build the “We” Not “Me” culture. It also builds credibility for the junior person, strengthens the customer’s impression of the entire team, and is one of the most appreciated gestures that a leader can make for a junior employee.

Building up a member of your team does not diminish you as a leader. Actually, quite the opposite happens.

Building up others makes for a stronger team and in doing so reinforces with the customer that you have done your job as a leader and as mentor.

It shows that you have developed a strong and capable team that can support the customer’s needs. (Besides, your customers ALWAYS know who the senior person in the room is.)

Be confident and spread that confidence throughout your WNM culture. It pays tremendous dividends!

The next time you find yourself in front of a customer presenting work that your team had a significant role in producing, look for opportunities to publicly compliment them on a job well-done. Do it in a sincere way, of course. Also, acknowledge that, while you as an individual might be the one making the presentation, the end-result was ultimately a team effort.

“We Not Me”… simple for a 14-year old playing soccer, yes. And also simple for adults in the workplace. But sometimes we all need to be reminded of the simple basics so that we can continue to grow a healthy organization.

How are you fostering a WNM culture at your business or organization? Are you including your employees, your customers, and your suppliers in this as well? What are you doing to help educate the “knucklehearted” leaders who have only self interest guiding their daily behaviors? Are you setting the example by writing “WNM” on your hand or on the white board?


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Ken Jones
Ken Jones, AIA, LEED AP is a Vice President at Grimm + Parker Architects in MD
A service-focused leader, Ken helps create meaningful architecture + client  success

Email | LinkedIn | Web

Image Sources: http://maclab.guhsd.net, blog.huddle.net


2 responses to ““We Not Me”… A Leadership Lesson From a 14-Year Old

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