When to lead with “I”


There is no “I” in team.  This is true. Leaders are supposed to be selfless. This is true. However there are times when a true leader must use the pronouns of “I” and “My”.  There are times that you must lead with “I”.

For a leader the most important time for them to use “I” is when there has been a mistake or something has gone wrong. When things go wrong, it is very easy for people to shift the blame and blame other people.  There are times that the blame does belong to someone else on your team or someone under your leadership. However, a true will accept the blame and shift the blame focus from their team members.   For a leader you take none of the credit when things go right but you must absorb the blame when things go awry.

The 2018 College Football Championship game between the University of Georgia and Alabama was decided in overtime by one touchdown pass.  The Alabama receiver caught the pass and ran into the end zone due to a missed coverage by a Georgia defensive back.  In the post-game press conference when asked about the game, Coach Smart of Georgia could have pointed the blame at his assistant coaches for making the wrong calls or the players for missing the coverage but he did not do that. In his press conference Coach Smart absorbed all of the blame and heaped all of the praise on his players. True leaders know that the blame or “the buck “always stops with them.

Can you imagine what it would be like for a head coach in his position to do the opposite? What if the head coach blamed the players publically after losses? What if the head coach blamed his staff during press conferences?  Can you imagine what impact that would have on the team and players?  Can you imagine players wanting to play for a coach who did that?

A leader’s job is not just to lead but it is also to protect and support. Leaders have thick skins so that they can absorb and deflect blows and attacks meant for those who follow them. True leaders also know that people will not follow a leader who is always shifting the blame. Team members are more loyal when they know that their leader will protect them and take the blame from them even when they deserve it.  Team members will also be more open and willingly to accept criticism from such a leader. Most importantly team members will work harder and get better for a leader that will make sacrifices for them.

A true leader knows that once you accept the blame or the failure, you can shift effort to finding a solution or getting better.  If you are not willingly to shoulder the blame as a leader then perhaps you are not ready to lead.  Blame finding, blame casting, and finger pointing is wasted time that prevents you from finding solutions and moving forward.

True leaders use the pronouns “I” and “we” instead of “them” or “they”. One is the language of ownership and accepted responsibility and the latter is the language of blame.

Remember in times of blame or mistakes, a leader leads with “I”.