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The Boardroom Lexicon: I, Me, We, Us

By John Pearson

What do astronauts, Tour de France cyclists, and great board members have in common?

I’m always looking for governance lessons—and I’ve recently noticed similar phrases—and values—from outer space and the inner circles of cycling teams. We could learn something from them.

This month, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Were you on earth when the Apollo 11 spaceflight reached their destination? It was July 20, 1969 when Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the Moon.

I’ve watched the documentary film, In the Shadow of the Moon, numerous times. (Read my review.) But this one value keeps popping up: We not Me. It was a stunning team effort. Some news reports indicated over 300,000 people had a part in Apollo 11’s success. The astronauts, especially, chose their words carefully: not me, not them, but us and we. “We did it.”

Over the last three weeks, I was up early many mornings to take in the sights, sounds, and heroics of the 2019 Tour de France. Stunning scenery and stunning teamwork! I’m not a cyclist—but I’m captivated by the teamwork and the strategy. So this year, through all 21 stages from Brussels to Paris (July 6-28), I also read the book, Tour de France for Dummies. One team has dominated in recent years (there’s that word again) and the youngest rider ever (just 22) earned the yellow jersey this year, due to the team effort.

So are the values of We and Us alive and well in your boardroom? Or are you on the board to help the CEO with her ministry? Words matter—and you can learn much about the value system of an organization, its CEO, and its board by listening: Lone Ranger Syndrome of the joy of teamwork?

As Dan Busby thoughtfully observes in our book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants! (coming in September from ECFAPress):
 

“CEOs must pursue God and focus on abiding in Christ. A major warning sign is when a leader places self-interest ahead of the things of God and the needs of the ministry, evidenced in arrogant language and prideful behavior.

You will often hear a spiritually healthy CEO say,
‘I serve as CEO,’ not ‘I am the CEO,’
—a subtle but profound indicator of their motivation."


BOARD DISCUSSION: At your next board meeting—listen. Does your boardroom lexicon honor God—and promote teamwork and the essence of leveraging everyone’s spiritual giftedness—or does the tone tilt toward Me rather than We?

MORE RESOURCES: Reid Lehman shares wisdom on this issue in his guest blog, “Serve with Humility and Experience God’s Presence: One board chair creates a holy moment for his CEO Search Committee,” based on chapter 9 in Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings (Second Edition), by Dan Busby and John Pearson.

INSPIRE YOUR BOARD! Inspire your board members to enrich their governance competencies at the ECFA Excellence in Governance Forums (eight cities, Fall 2019).

 

This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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