Me or We?



If you’ve ever watched The Office without laughing out loud, someone might need to check your pulse. Either that, or you’ve just been fortunate to have never experienced stereotypical workplace behaviors.

In one episode, the supervisor Michael, played by Steve Carell, says to someone on the team, “I am your big daddy, and I’m going to kiss the boo boo.” Standard behavior for this character. Excessively inappropriate for the real world. Thus, the comedic effect.

What might not feel so funny is the familiarity of the familial element of many team dynamics.

A leadership role can be likened to a parental role. A leader is responsible for leading by example, ensuring that his or her team members are trained, instilling and exuding agreed-upon values and fostering a cohesive spirit, among many analogous examples.

Even though Forbes published an article similar to this premise almost a decade ago, it still rings true.

Some of you may be saying, “How can I do all this when I can’t even retain my team?” Or “How can I effectively hold people accountable when the threat of losing team members seems so high these days?”

Legitimate questions. But pre- and post-pandemic answers remain the same: you can’t afford not to. In fact, I would say today’s workforce, more than ever, demands this level of leadership.

The real question is: are you aware of your unconscious sabotaging behaviors as you express your leadership acumen?

Often bereft of your conscious awareness, these types of behaviors are byproducts of the conditioning of our childhood, which is what makes them so comfortable to our brains – yet sometimes uncomfortable in the experiences they create.

Let’s break this down by illustrating what I observe as the most common subconscious saboteur . . .

Most people – until they face this issue head on – operate from either seeking approval of authority figures or rebelling against them. Only a fortunate few do not have this issue.

Nevertheless, those who have successfully shattered these behaviors are likely to describe the moment when they realized they were doing it and the measures they took to stop doing it. Is this you? If so, double high fives!

When we don’t fully recognize that our brains are operating from this paradigm, we become inadvertently subjected to potentially torturous outcomes.

By example, we make decisions to gain immediate approval only to find that in the end, it was not the right decision, which led to a costly output that overshadowed the initial approval with ultimate disapproval.

This is what unconscious self-sabotaging most often looks like.

Another common example would be the unintended consequence of competition. It is one thing to prepare your team to help the company compete in the marketplace. It is an altogether destructive proposition when you, members of your team or your team collectively compete internally – vying for Accolades, Approval, Attention or individual Achievement at the team’s (and sometimes the company’s) expense. All these As don’t add up to A+ outcomes.

Please don’t conclude that it’s disruptive to praise, commend and formally recognize great work. On the contrary, positive reinforcement is a master teacher of perpetual excellence. Let’s not confuse the former (competitive motive) with the latter (invaluable contribution). Instead, let’s keep a check on what we’re not keeping a check on: unconscious mental habits.

Sometimes the hardest thing for a leader to do is to replace the tendency to impulsively say what the higher authority wants to hear instead of thoughtfully presenting what he or she needs to hear.

Proposing the truth, wrapped in a sound strategy for a win-win, is the best way to proceed when communicating up the chain of command. Even the CEO reports to the Board. Every leader must face – and courageously move through – fear when communicating to ‘the boss.’

To do this most successfully, start by doing an internal check on your own operating system. Is there a glitch related to your need for approval? If so, upgrade your thoughts and intentions, and then empathetically take note of your team’s tendency to do the same with you. With grace, challenge them to think more objectively.

Over time and with disciplined practice and pure intentions, the need for approval will be a thing of the past. As a result, the team dynamic will be harmonious and cohesive, built to create true and lasting success.

So is it Me or We? Both. When you lead with courageous authenticity, everyone wins.

Here’s to our evolving professional maturity and gratification for a job well done . . . cheers!

You (definitely) got this.