WE, Not ME
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus
The story is bigger than the part I play in it.
The mission is greater than one person.
Are you playing for the front of the jersey or the back of the jersey?
There is no “I” in team!
"We" is greater than "me!"
Many of us have heard these old adages before. But are they true or are they only ideas that coaches and grandparents pass down?
In the United States, we celebrate the individual.
Herbert Hoover coined (or popularized – history is unclear on this) the term “rugged individualism” during the presidential campaign of 1928. He was attempting to describe the American values of capitalism, personal freedom, and limited government interference in our daily lives.
In our present day America, we still love to spotlight the individual. It is harder to understand why a team has produced a successful outcome, but we believe we can understand the successful thinking of one person. We can remember one person. We can model our dreams and achievements from an individual because we are individuals. The team thing is just too clumsy!
Of course, Bill Gates started Microsoft and invented the entire operating system by himself – correct? (Look up the name Paul Allen for fun!). We all know the hype around Elon Musk – he came up with the ideas for Tesla, PayPal, and SpaceX all by himself, correct? Steve Jobs founded and invented the Apple Computer – right? (Anyone ever hear of Steve Wozniak? Let alone Ronald Wayne!). And let us not forget the individual who Fortune magazine named the “Manager of the Century” – Jack Welch! He single-handedly made GE the greatest company on the planet in the early 90’s, just like Paul Revere single-handedly warned us that the British were coming! Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon – and of course he got there and did that all by his own abilities – correct? And does anyone even care or remember that “Buzz” Aldrin did it 19 minutes later?
Most worthwhile events in history are the work and achievement of many individuals working together as a team. Even great thinkers and leaders are aided by the many people that make the idea or dream come true.
This focus on giving one person all the credit or blame for an event or a company’s success or failure is legendary in our society. With the over-focus on the individual, we dilute the contributions and achievements (or blame) of the team, the group, and the organization. It has become so accepted and addictive that in all of our major team-sport championships, we immediately award the MVP trophy to an individual right after the team has received theirs; as if it could not have occurred without one individual, rising above all the others to ensure the victory. We have this need to simplify the event down to the activities of a single person. Not to mention that it has been over 40 years since an individual from the losing team was awarded the MVP trophy. The evidence shows us that we are becoming a nation focused more and more on a single individual – and, furthermore, that your contribution only has merit if you win.
However, our nation has not always been so individualistic. There was a time in our history when “running for elected office” was unheard of. It was seen as unseemly and made one "unfit" to hold office. Instead, you were asked or solicited by your peers to "serve" in public office. You did so not to glorify yourself, but to serve.
When our first president, George Washington, declined to seek a third term in office, he did so for the nation – for the team. He is the only president to be elected by unanimous vote, and yet he stepped down from that highly individual position because he feared that if he died in office, it would establish a precedent that the position was a lifetime appointment. Additionally, in his written Farewell Address to our nation, he warned us of what he feared could happen to our fledgling Republic if we did not take care to avoid putting our personal interest above the interests of the nation. Regional interest and factionalism (the precursor to political parties) were the worst enemy of the Nation, he told us. “Cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion." Fast forward to today, where we find our political climate rampant with the celebrity politician, the lifetime politician, and any compromise with the other side is a violation of Us vs. Them. However, instead of Us vs. Them, what if we thought of this simple math: us + them = WE. So if you are in it for just ‘us’ or ‘them’, ‘we’ is not possible. We are the team!
After all, WE defeated a monarchy that unjustly ruled us. WE, the people, formed a more perfect Union. WE looked the other way on slavery. WE abolished slavery. WE helped each other during the Depression. WE volunteered to help defeat Hitler. WE built this country by accepting all that came to our shores seeking a better life. WE have built and then divided ourselves many times in our history.
If we want to have a more perfect workplace, thinking "WE not ME" is the place to start. If we want better relationships with family and others, WE not ME is the answer. If we desire to have a nation where WE can all live our lives as better MEs, then it starts by being a better individual.
The Atlanta Braves just won the World Series with the help of a "WE not ME" and a small "i" over a capital "I" mentality. Many of the players were not even playing for the Braves weeks before the playoffs. Some were even playing for the opposing team just months before the historic win over the Houston Astros! When players got injured, others stepped up. Pitchers were coming and going at a record-setting pace, not to add to their personal glory, but to help the team accomplish a glory.
What the 2021 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves taught us:
Be a better individual by being the best small “i” you can be.
Serve your team no matter your position.
Be willing to sacrifice your personal win for a bigger WIN.
Be an individual, not an individualist.
Be self-reliant, but not self-centered.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves are very unlikely champions. For the most part, they scraped together whatever they could find. They lost many of their INDIVIDUAL star players to injury but were forced to rely on the small “i” players to fill in the gaps. The Braves showed us that WE > ME!
WE = Team.
At The Joshua Group Consulting, WE (meet our team here!) come together to serve our clients and to serve each other. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to become a better small “i” leader or learn more on creating a great WE > ME culture in your company or community!
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interest but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4.