May 07 2014

There Is No “I” In Startups

10456275_773702595994984_4644299211964010802_nIn startup world, it’s easy to think big. Big dreams, big scale, big checks, big exits. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how important the small stuff is, like how you talk about success and your team.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to a startup CEO, and the conversation was truly inspiring. He is passionate about his company, and proud of the six employees and two other co-founders who make up his team. I was getting so pumped up listening to him talk about where their company is headed. However, what really stuck with me was the way he used the word “I.”

“I landed this awesome customer”

“I am about to rally the team”

“I sometimes have to carry the team on my back”

At some point we’ve all talked this way about the teams we are a part of. I am sure I’ve had my moments where I take too much credit for team achievements. Yet this isn’t a healthy way to talk when building a team or starting a company. When you take too more credit than you’re giving, you’re weakening your team. That’s not the way you build a strong workplace culture. What we need to change the way we view our work is often as simple as a better vocabulary.

When things go wrong, the leader should take the blame. When things go right, the credit has to be given to the team.

That’s because everything, and I mean everything, comes down to “we.” It feels so good and is so much fun to be together and win as a team. At some point, we all carrying one another, because we all have good days and bad days. That can be frustrating, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean we should get stuck in the vocabulary trap of “I” instead of “We.”

In the end, even after good days and bad days, you’re still on a team together. You’re still pulling for the same cause and working toward the same goals. It’s important as a leader to set that example of camaraderie and humility that builds morale and strengthens, rather than splinters, the team. That’s how startups win.

-Ted Alling