In leadership, where every word can tip the scales of perception, the choice between “I” and “we” becomes more than a matter of grammar—it becomes a strategic decision that can define our identity, showcase our contributions, and underscore our commitment to collective success. For women in leadership, this choice carries additional layers of complexity and significance.

Understanding the Power of “I”

In the corridors of power and the arenas of achievement, “I” stands tall. It’s a declaration of individuality, a testament to personal effort, and a beacon of accountability. For women leaders, embracing “I” is not merely about asserting presence; it’s about owning our space, our achievements, and our journeys. It’s about shining a light on the unique contributions we bring to the table—breaking stereotypes, challenging biases, and setting new benchmarks.

However, the path to saying “I” is fraught with societal expectations and cultural norms that often urge women to downplay their accomplishments, to blend into the background, and to prioritize communal harmony over individual recognition. And, in fact, clients have told me that their (female) bosses told them to use “we” more often, suggesting that these women leaders were more tied to traditional female narratives than to a more modern approach to claiming achievements. But here’s the truth we must embrace: asserting “I” is not just about personal gain—it’s about paving the way for other women to follow, about creating a narrative where female leadership is visible, vocal, and valued.

The Inclusive Power of “We”

If “I” is the solo, “we” is the chorus. It’s about harmony, collaboration, and the collective effort. “We” speaks to the leader who sees beyond the self, who recognizes the power of unity and the strength that comes from diverse voices coming together towards a common goal. It’s about building bridges, fostering an environment of mutual respect and support, and celebrating shared victories.

For women in leadership, “we” is doubly significant. It reflects a leadership style that is inclusive, empathetic, and transformational. It showcases a leader who leverages the collective intelligence, skills, and energies of the team to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Yet, the challenge remains—to ensure that “we” does not eclipse the “I,” that in our quest for inclusivity, we do not lose sight of our individual contributions and achievements.

Striking the Balance: The “I” in “We”

The dance between “I” and “we” is a delicate one. It’s about reading the room, understanding the context, and choosing the pronoun that best serves the moment. It’s about recognizing when to step forward with “I” to highlight individual leadership and accountability, and when to step back into “we” to celebrate collective effort and achievement.

For women leaders, this balance is crucial. It’s about asserting individual achievements without alienating the team. It’s about showcasing leadership without overshadowing the contributions of others. It’s about navigating the fine line between humility and visibility, between self-effacement and self-assertion.

Empowerment through Communication: Tips for Women Leaders

  • Own Your Achievements: Use “I” when discussing your contributions, especially in contexts where your leadership and initiative need to be highlighted—be it in performance reviews, project proposals, or leadership discussions.
  • Celebrate Your Team: Use “we” to underscore the collaborative efforts of your team, to build a sense of unity and shared purpose, especially when discussing project successes or overcoming challenges.
  • Context is Key: The choice between “I” and “we” should be guided by the situation. Consider the audience, the message, and the outcome you wish to achieve. Be flexible and mindful in your communication. With your immediate boss, “we” is appropriate because your boss likely knows what you’re working on and how you’re contributing. With skip-level bosses and “higher-ups,” a blend of “I” and “we” is more appropriate, so you balance the inclusion of “we” while also claiming your achievements with “I.”
  • Empower and Educate: Encourage your team to use “I” in acknowledging their contributions while fostering an environment that appreciates and recognizes individual efforts within the collective framework.
  • Model the Balance: Lead by example. Show how you navigate the use of “I” and “we” in your communication, demonstrating the power of both individual initiative and collective effort.

The choice between “I” and “we” is more than a linguistic preference—it’s a reflection of our leadership style, our values, and our vision. For women in leadership, it represents an opportunity to redefine the narrative, to assert their rightful place in the leadership landscape, and to champion a model of leadership that is both assertive and inclusive.

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