With or For?

From our CEOI am always amazed at how many supervisors say “they work FOR me” or “yeah they are MY employee.” It may be hard to catch at first, but once you are aware of the ownership dictation used, it can be pretty hard to miss and definitely disheartening especially when those same supervisors are the one to proudly say that they are “all about supporting the staff” but if you are “all about the staff” then why is the employee working “for you” and not with you?

There is a clear distinction between leaders and bosses. A leader is someone who guides their staff through the daily grind while a boss is more of a director, giving orders to be carried out. When I was in my early 20’s I was very fortunate to be on teams with great leaders and had the privilege of serving on committees whose leaders inspired change. And I, like most, had a fair share of encounters with less than decent leaders/supervisors.

As I look back to the most common thread all the “great ones” had, it was how they spoke about those who worked with them. Sure there were amazing leaders, who I still emulate today that used the word “for” more often than I would like, but most used the word “with”. An inclusion word. By definition, it means accompanied by. “For” on the other hand is often used to indicate an object. While both words do have slightly different meanings, what rings true is that the word “with” is far more inclusive and has a more positive meaning than the word “for”.

Although this may be the first time you have had to think about your choice of words, it is a topic that recurs within my CEO network often, and it is always met with a great debate. Most of this group thinks the term “for” is as general as saying, “Hey guys, come over” when speaking to a male/female group. But what is the message being sent when someone hears the words – “She works for me”? Language is everything and can set you apart from the rest all by changing your tune and using more inclusive words that truly support your care for your staff.

As I continue to challenge my CEO group I raise the challenge to you, the reader, to try and communicate differently in regards to how you speak about the team of people that surround you. Consider using terms such as;

●      Joe is a great team member – not It’s great to have Joe on MY team

●      I am lucky to work with Sheila – not Sheila works FOR me, she is great

●      When I work with the team (removing the work MY) from the statement

●      Jack on the team – not Jack on MY team

The next time you share a story or talk to colleagues about who “works for you”, analyze what you are saying and how it is coming across, and how it could be received by various groups of people. Know your audience and think about who is listening. I can promise you one thing though, when you start using the word “with” to describe staff, teams, or people who carry out the work, it will get noticed and can be the start of Driving Change in your business.

Jerry Reid


Top Hand Media