I was reading a post the other day from a well-regarded company leader. As I was reading, something struck me. This leader kept referring to the people they work with as “my team.” At first, I wasn’t sure what bothered me about that positioning, but later in the day I was going for a walk and it hit me.
A leader referring to their team as “my team” is possessive. When stated this way, the team belongs to the leader. Even if it’s unintentional, which I think it was in this case, the leader is sending a command-and-control message: “This is ‘my team,’ they work for me, they report to me, I direct them.” It is important to note that if you are part of a team and not the team leader, then referring to the rest of your teammates as “my team” is fine because you aren’t possessing the team or expressing ownership over them so much as you are including yourself as a member of the team. But for leaders, the positioning and resulting connotation are important and people do pick up on it.
Leaders should refer to their teams as “the team” or “our team.” This doesn’t seem like much of a difference on the surface, but it is. A leader referring to their team in this way takes out the possessive aspect and positions the leader as part of the team. The best leaders influence — they don’t want to send the message that they own the team or the team somehow belongs to them. The best leaders should want to set the tone and culture that they are part of the team and have a role to play just like everyone else. This adds to the mentality of being a leader rather than being a boss.
Teams need leaders and they need to be led, but every team prefers leadership who is part of the team. No one wants to feel like a possession of the company, they want to feel like they are working together with their leader to meet mutual goals. When a goal is met, the company succeeds and a project is completed, it is the combined work of the whole team and the success should be shared and celebrated as a collective. To be a better leader you should inspire and mentor your team rather than command and discipline.
Leaders whose messaging and actions are that of “the team” or “our team” are participatory and inclusive, bringing the team closer together. Close-knit, highly productive teams are teams with participatory leadership — not with arm’s length, ownership leadership. Every member of the team should feel some degree of ownership for the team and its outputs. Even if unintentional, when a leader claims the team as their own, they are inadvertently discrediting the team as an entity.
Leaders should take ownership of their messages, actions and outcomes, but not their team members. Leaders can protect, support and elevate their team members without owning them.
Originally posted to Columbus Business First Leadership Trust.