There’s no shortage of blogs, articles, infographics, and “gurus” in the world today all graciously sharing their secrets to success for those of you out there who either desire to be a great leader one day, or perhaps are already in a leadership role and interested in improving your abilities.
This is one such blog. But hear me out! Stick with me over the next 600 words or so as I give you one – yes, just one – top tip to put your best foot forward on your path toward great leadership skills.
At the Academy, we work with many different types of leaders. A number of them are owners of a law firm and have found themselves – like it or not – in a leadership role. Several are the right-hand men and women of owners, who were born with leadership capabilities and strive to be even better leaders for their teams. Others are leaders of specific projects or departments in their firms. And some find themselves leading in their own quiet ways, setting examples for others on the team and providing support, training, accountability, and playing a role in creating a healthy law firm culture that allows everyone to thrive.
The point is, everyone in a law firm (or any organization, for that matter) can be a leader from any seat in the house. The secret? A shift in perspective and semantics.
First, a bit of background. Surely you’ve heard of the royal “we” which is widely attributed first to King Henry II who used it to imply he was speaking for both himself and God. Over time, however, leaders began to use the term to imply them and their teams. While this brief history lesson may seem insignificant, research has shown that using “we” could also mean you are more considerate of others and possibly a better leader.
In 2013 a team of researchers* conducted five separate studies where they examined the use of pronouns by individuals in a variety of contexts. Their findings consistently showed two trends:
- Pronouns indicate a speaker’s focus of attention.
Essentially, when people feel insecure, self-aware, diminished, or like they have to prove themselves, they are more likely to focus their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors inward. This is displayed in the use of first-person singular pronouns: “I,” “me,” or “my.” In contrast, individuals using first-person plural and second-person pronouns such as “we,” “us,” or “you,” consistently demonstrate an outward focus, considering the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others.
- Positions of leadership are held by outward-focused individuals.
In their studies, researchers found overwhelmingly that those individuals either in a leadership role or who desired to advance into a leadership role tended to focus on the group, its Members, and the success thereof, rather than on their own. While the pronoun may be a small word, researchers found it to be a potent distinction. While those in a successful leadership role tend to be outward-focused and strive for success of the group as a whole, those not in a leadership role tend to tout their own efforts apart from the wellbeing of the group.
Furthermore, these studies showed that leadership in a group is often legitimated by the group, not the individual with the leadership “title.” Because of this, individuals who demonstrate a strong focus on the group rather than themselves often attain – and hold – leadership roles. On the contrary, individuals who might attempt to “force” their leadership role onto others by proving their worth (again, using words such as “I,” “me,” or “my,”) from a self-focused position are more likely to be looked down on by the group, regardless of their role.
So here’s your pro tip for the day: Whether you are already in a leadership role, or desire to assume a leadership role, start with a shift from an inward to an outward-focused position, especially when it comes to the success of your team. Making a conscious effort to transition from using the singular “I” to the plural “we” may not make you a king (or queen) any time soon, but it might just cause a shift in perspective from self-focused to others-focused, make you more aware of the needs of others and, as you work to meet those needs, might just make you a better leader.
*If you’re interested in reading through the actual research study conducted and published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, you can check that out here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0261927X13502654 (but beware: you’ll have to pay to get access to the full report).
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