The Leadership Eye Test: A Simple Checkup for Your Team’s Health

What can an Eye Test tell us abut our leadership?

We all know that it’s a good idea to get a physical checkup regularly.  These visits to the doctor can help identify potential problems early, and help us resolve health issues that may come up, whether it’s with our heart, hearing, or eyesight.

But what if there were such a checkup for our leadership?  Here’s a very simple one that might help highlight symptoms of leadership problems, and it doesn’t even involve a trip to the clinic.

Leadership Eye Test - A Simple Checkup for Your Team's Health

The Eye Test

For that routine physical we’re familiar with, the eye test was the easiest part of the process.

Stand at a mark on the floor, cover one eye, and then read the letters on the chart mounted on the far wall.  Line by line, we work our way down the chart until the letters are too small to make out.

There was a time when I could even read some of the very smallest print at the bottom, but as I got older, that was no longer the case.  One day the doctor started talking about fitting me for glasses.

The Leadership “I” Test

As simple as that eye test was, the one I have in mind to test our leadership is even less involved.  We can call it the “I” Test.

Grab that last email you just sent and pull it up, whatever it was.  Go through the first 10 lines of text and look for the number of “I” words.  Count any words that refer to yourself, words like I, me, mine.  Write that number down somewhere.

Now go through it again and look for “we” words.  Count any that refer to the team, like we, us and ours.  Write that number down, too.

Leadership Eye Test ScalesThat’s it.  Very simple.  Now just look at the two numbers.  How do they compare?

If the “we” words are outweighed by the “I” words, there may be a problem with our “I” sight.

Here’s what I mean.

Looking Into Our “Is”

Whether written or spoken, if our language is dominated by references to ourselves, it tells others where our focus lies.  It’s all about self.  We’re most concerned with what “I” think, what “I” want, what “I” need.

And what our teammates intuitively perceive is that as that space fills with “I,” there is less room for others.  What they think, want, or need matters less.

This is where disengagement begins.

And as Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie of More Human Leadership adds, it also signals an “every person for themselves” culture.  When the leader demonstrates that taking care of #1 is priority #1, it won’t be long before the rest of the team follows that example.

With everyone focused on self, a trust gap grows, and the team may begin to suffer heart issues.

“I” excludes.  Ultimately, “I” is the language of disunity, self-interest, and distrust.

 The Power of “We”

In contrast, with “we” there’s room for the rest of the team.  With “we” it’s all about what we’re doing together, and everybody matters.

Part of the power of “we” is that it changes the orientation of the why.   People may or may not be motivated to get something done because “I” told them to do it.  But on a team where they understand that others are counting on them, social pressure comes to bear, which can potentially be a much more powerful force.

We, us, and our are the seeds of engagement. Click To Tweet

And from a cultural standpoint, “we” is a way of bringing people together, strengthening the bonds among us, and supporting our common goals.  “We” do things to help each other so that our team succeeds.

We” includes.

We is the language of unity, team, and trust. Click To Tweet

Leadership Eye Test – The Takeaway

Leadership Eye Test ChartThis little leadership “I” test is even simpler than the eye test we take at the clinic.  The results can indicate the potential for future health issues on our team.

If our “Is” are overweight, not only are we not seeing well, but we could be looking at long-term cardiac issues with our team.

And unlike the doctor’s eye chart, most people don’t need glasses to see what’s written on our bottom line.  Those little words we use quickly make it very clear to anyone who is paying attention.

If we hope to build trust, encourage engagement, and engender a strong, positive culture, we have to have an inclusive mindset in our leadership.

A good place to get a quick health check on that is with the language we use.

Have you done an “I” check lately?

Lead On!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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