Leadership Challenge #1: Creating “WE” not “ME” solutions

randy-glas-cartoonAccording to Leadership Freak, there are “7 Ways to Powerfully Lead Through Problems.” They’re listed below, so that you can pay particular attention to #2: Create a “We,” in the context of his list.
    1. Be transparent. Everyone knows profits are down. They’re waiting for you to name it.
    2. Create a “we.”
    3. Talk with people at the center of the storm. Ask them to:
      • Explain the situation.
      • Define success.
      • Identify and describe behaviors that create forward movement.
      • Describe how committed they are to finding and implementing solutions.
    4. Begin with problems; remain focused on solutions.
    5. Commit to quickly making things better. The longer you wait the more difficult solutions become.
    6. Set expectations. Complete resolution takes time.
    7. Ask them to solve it, when appropriate. Stay available. Don’t hover.

These lists seem awfully perky, don’t they? (I’ve written them myself, so don’t get me wrong, I love them, and they can help — it’s just that this one triggered my thinking about how hard it is to be a good leader, and how easy it is to talk about it abstractly!)

Creating a “We” sounds important — it even sounds satisfying, but it’s a huge leadership challenge, especially when leaders are trying to remain focused on solutions to a particular problems, set clear expectations, engage stakeholders appropriately in problem solving, be transparent, communicate well with panicked employees, define success (from the top down, I assume) and “commit to quickly making things better.” I mean, who is the “we” in this picture?

The “we” is the collaborative group of course, but if you pay attention to the rhetoric in Leadership Freak’s blog, the group is set and controlled by the leader, as is the rate of problem solving, the definition of success, and the assessment of the situation and its appropriate delegations. This is the challenge of creating a “we” — it takes an “us” to do it, but leadership-as-usual is about claiming responsibility as an “I.”

Here’s the rub. Collective leadership creates an unwieldy, but more flexible “we” than top-down leadership, but very few of us know how to do it. Authentic leadership is a great process when it works, but authenticity tends to feel best when it’s about self-expression, which means “I” leadership, not “we” leadership. It’s messy.

Complicating things, as a culture, we value the individual, and devalue the group, so as leaders, we consider excellence a quality of “I” and not “we.” So how do we effectively create a we, without losing face as a leader, without feeling uncomfortable, without throwing all those definitions and controls and potential solutions into question even as we’re solving problems? We can’t!

The bottom line is that problems in a company usually mean the organization needs to create a different “we,” because the old one isn’t working. Leaders have to have the courage to be vulnerable, to break the unwritten, unspoken “I” rules. As “we” redefine roles in ways that might be more authentic and profitable, things will inevitably be uncomfortable. Ironically, the new “we” might just move the very leaders who make positive change out of their top “I” jobs!

Sigh. Leadership is a challenge. Change is inevitable. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it…. I only wish finding solutions was as clear as this well-meaning 7-point “to do” list for problem management. “We” would be much better off.


  1. […] Leadership Challenge #1: Creating “WE” not “ME” solutions […]


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