What is it with politicians, chief executives and captains of industry and the first person singular?

Certainly, one must possess a requisite amount of talent, vision and maybe plain old luck to rise to the top of the mountain. And you can be assured that these winners also have a healthy respect for themselves, otherwise known as ego. The question is: Why isn’t that good enough?

Even though they won’t admit it, presidents, governors, senators, CEOs and other C-level executives are signaling a narcissistic obsession with themselves when they use “I” as the subject. “Me” as the object. “Mine” as the possessive pronoun. “My” as the possessive adjective. And “Myself” in the reflexive. The emphasis is on . . . me, me, me.

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan caught President Barack Obama, his love of himself and the first-person singular as he delivered his Afghanistan strategy to the cadets at West Point last week http://www.peggynoonan.com/

“But there was too much ‘I’ in the speech,” Noonan wrote. “George H.W. Bush famously took the word ‘I’ out of his speeches—we called them ‘I-ectomies’—because of a horror of appearing to be calling attention to himself. Mr. Obama is plagued with no such fears. ‘When I took office . . . I approved a long-standing request . . . After consultations with our allies I then . . . I set a goal.’ That’s all from one paragraph. Further down he used the word ‘I’ in three paragraphs an impressive 15 times. ‘I believe I know,’ ‘I have signed,’ ‘I have read,’ ‘I have visited.

“I, I—ay yi yi. This is a man badly in need of an I-ectomy.”

He’s not the only one. Countless times, yours truly has seen, cringed and heard C-level executives, trade association presidents and of course, politicians, who are literally hooked on the first person singular. Here’s an idea for a change of pace: the first personal plural: “We” as the subject. “Us” as the object. “Ours” as the possessive pronoun. “Our” as the possessive adjective. And “Ourselves” in the reflexive.

The two leaders, who had the most influence on my career, former California Governor George Deukmejian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Deukmejian and semiconductor industry legend and LSI Logic founder Wilf Corrigan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Corrigan never used the first person singular. Instead, they talked about what “we” were going to do. The successes that “we” achieved. The accomplishments of “our” state, company, team etc. What this event or that event meant to “us.”

And what impact does this first person plural approach have on those who are working for these leaders? Easy, they feel like they are part of a team. They contributed to the success. And they are motivated to do even more. If the leader keeps on referring to himself or herself in the first person singular — the dreaded “I” disease — it will not be too long before each of their subordinates starts asking himself or herself: “What Am I? Chopped liver?”

And it is very doubtful that any of them will have the courage to suggest out loud to the almighty that he or she could use an I-ectomy. The key for those public relations practitioners offering C-level counsel is to discourage the use of the first person singular before its addictive power takes over the executive suite or the corner office.

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