One of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is balancing responsibility and power with one’s ego. All too often we see leaders in movies who seem to tackle threats and problems all on their own.

It makes sense. Everyone loves the idea of a singular hero, but the reality is that great leaders are not solely responsible for the success of an organization. They are an integral part of a larger team who works together to achieve amazing things.

It takes selflessness, celebrating the wins of others, and compassion to be successful. Combine that with an ability to create a vision, organize a plan, and move forward, and you have the recipe for an incredible leader.

When leaders are unable to think beyond their own abilities, it handicaps the entire organization. On the other hand, when leaders recognize the talents of their teams, the possibilities are endless.

Going Beyond Me, My, and I

Poor leaders often talk in terms of ownership. They make references to my company, my vision, and my employees. In other words, they are stuck in a space where they can only think in terms of me, my, and I.

But thinking that way is incredibly detrimental. Here’s why.

Me, My, and I Thinking…

  • Inhibits the growth of others
  • Disables empowerment of team members
  • Does not support or nurture positive relationships
  • Alienates leadership from teams

On the flip side, when leaders speak as collaborators in terms of us, our, and we, it creates huge benefits.

Us, Our, and We Thinking…

  • Creates a culture of shared ownership
  • Pulls other people into the conversation
  • Engages team members
  • Increases the potential to share investment and responsibility

People want to feel that their work has meaning and that their contributions are valued. And no one wants to work for a tyrant. Great leaders recognize the efforts of their teams and act as collaborators, not dictators. Doing so has significant positive impacts on relationships and ultimately your entire culture.

How to Create a Culture of We

Understanding the importance of creating a culture of “we” and getting to that point are two different things. Leaders must make regular investments in transforming their culture if they want to create a positive environment where all teams feel valued and appreciated.

Here are four ways leaders can start creating a culture of “we.”

  1. Express empathy when you take action, when you communicate, and whenever you interact with team members. 
  2. Demonstrate your willingness to learn if you get feedback that suggests another way of looking at or doing something. 
  3. Don’t fear the talents and abilities of others. Build their capacity and nurture them in their roles to start preparing future leaders. 
  4. Become a steward of positive change by setting an example whenever possible.

The ultimate payoff for following these strategies comes when your actions begin to influence the way other teams interact with each other. As you set an example, you mold the norms of your culture to encourage selflessness throughout your organization and inject it with positivity.

A Tale of Two Banks

A leader’s actions create a powerful ripple effect on an organization’s culture. When leaders are greedy, self-serving, and egotistic, it’s all the more likely that their entire organization will reflect those values.

On the other end of the spectrum, when leaders act selflessly and create a culture that nurtures others, the results are just as impactful: an organization that truly stands for something.

In the lead to the Great Recession, Washington Mutual went aggressively after subprime mortgages. They became experts at predatory lending, thinking only of their bottom line and not the potential consequences of people losing their homes or their jobs. At the time, WaMu was one of the largest banks in the country.

In that same moment, a tiny bank in Oregon, Umpqua, saw the situation and decided to stick to their values. They saw subprime mortgages as a threat to families and stayed out of the game.

All of the selfish bets WaMu made came back to haunt them. Branches closed and eventually the company went bankrupt. But, Umpqua’s story was dramatically different.

Umpqua’s commitment to its core values and its customers proved to be its greatest insurance policy. After the recession, they thrived and are now one of the most successful financial institutions on the west coast. And they did it on their own terms.

Boosting positive leadership qualities starts at the top, but the effects go much farther than the boardroom and the corner office. Great leadership sets an example that defines a company’s culture and ultimately sets a path forward for sustainable success.

What are your values? Start doing the work of transforming your company culture by downloading our free workbook.