Publications & Products
Volume 3, Issue 36


Watch Pronoun Usage in Speeches

Leaders should be careful how they use "I" and "we" in communications, says a business school professor.

"One mistake leaders can make is to act as if big public communications are all about themselves," says Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End. "The team takes the opposite position—they often think that communications should be all about them. They will be sensitive to the number of ‘I's' versus ‘we's' that the leader uses. Yet—and this is paradoxical—teams also want their leaders to be forceful and decisive in taking responsibility for improving the situation."

Kanter recently shared with the Harvard Business Review the following guidelines for determining when to use these pronouns:

  • Use "we" when describing accomplishments.
  • Use "I" when taking responsibility for stumbles and indicating resolve to make changes.

She adds, "The people on your team know the difference, and they're listening carefully."


This article is from the March 17, 2014 issue.

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