September 13, 2022
by Stephen T. Messenger
I took command of United States Army Garrison Fort McCoy 62 days ago and quickly noticed an interesting thing. Many times, members of the team speak to me about the command and preface it with the word “your”—as in, “your garrison” or “your installation.”
I quickly correct them. It’s “our” installation.
I find the “your” language interesting, particularly in a team setting. Leaders of any organization carry a hefty burden. However, it’s certainly not theirs and theirs alone.
In my case, it’s true that I’ve been assigned command over hundreds of people, thousands of things, and billions of dollars in property, equipment, and budget. Army regulation specifically states that I am “responsible for everything the unit [Fort McCoy] does or fails to do.”
Whatever position you are leading, you have a hefty responsibility.
Army doctrine goes on to say the commander should abide by the four elements of command: authority, responsibility, decision-making, and leadership. They also leverage control through direction, feedback, information, and communication. But again, one person does not make an organization.
That’s why I always correct those who say, “your garrison.” It’s ours.
“We” Put a Man on the Moon
One could argue it’s semantics. Everyone knows that they have a role to play, including the leader, and generally most play it well.
But I believe this difference in language is very powerful. The word “yours” subconsciously allows permission to abdicate responsibility. No one is purposefully using this word to slack off their jobs, but it’s easier when the weight of the organization mentally falls on someone else.
Using “your” language makes it about one person. Instead, it truly takes a village to run an organization, be it an installation, platoon, private business, or nonprofit.
It’s very similar to the 1962 story of President John F. Kennedy meeting a janitor during his first visit to NASA. He asked the janitor what his role was in the building, and the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
This man understood that “we” are putting a man on the moon. Not only the director of NASA. Not only the captain. All of us.
David Marquet writes about the difference between a leader-follower approach and a leader-leader approach in his book Turn the Ship Around!
- Leader-follower: Followers listen to what the leader tells them to do. This type of command is limiting because the follower is always waiting for orders to come from above. They expect to be told what to do and how to do it. It rests on one person’s abilities and fails to take advantage of the entire team’s skills, knowledge, experience, judgement, and creativity.
- Leader-leader: This model recognizes that everyone comes with talent. It allows leaders at all levels to make or recommend decisions from a different perspective. It reduces the need for one person to weigh in and make every decision. The organization shifts from judging “your” decisions to making “our” decisions.
This leader-leader model does not release the responsibility from the leader—quite the opposite. It maintains authority while demonstrating trust in the team.
To do so, leaders thoughtfully delegate control of certain decisions. They identify key tasks and goals, while letting others find the way to get there. Thus, they escape the dangerous trap of micromanaging employees.
This slight language shift enables others to take ownership of “our” organization and have skin in the game. “Our” language shows others they are trusted to lead. “Our” organization allows the janitor to know his critical role in the global space race.
It may seem like a small difference but changing from “yours” to “ours” allows others to take ownership, lead effectively, and mentally be a part of collective success!
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