How to Define "Us"

We’ve talked about the power of “us.” Employees who feel like “one of us” defend the group when the group’s image is threatened (via threats or competition) and have a strong sense of commitment and obligation to working toward the group goal. But how do you make employees embrace their identities as part of “us”?

A leader should first make sure to clarify who we are. Understanding who we are means knowing and accepting the group’s purposes, mission and vision for the future. An effective strategic leader can achieve these results in multiple ways:

Charismatic leadership. A leader can use one’s own personal charm to influence others, inspire followers and have others identify with the values and visions they convey. A charismatic leader can inspire and excite followers with a vivid picture of the future and make them believe they can achieve this vision by working extra hard toward the group goal[1] (After you get done reading this blog entry, click HERE to read more on specific techniques of becoming a more charismatic leader).

Trust. Motivating employees through passionate and charismatic speech is effective, but its impact is short-lived. To have employees completely identify themselves as a part of the group, there needs to be consistency between the vision/value and the group’s daily operation, as well as the leader’s decisions and behaviors. Consistency leads to trust,[2] and trust makes the heart strong when faced with challenges and ambiguity.

Care and support. The norm of reciprocity has always been tested and re-tested in a vast body of organizational science literature. It states that if all parties abide by certain norms of exchange and mutual benefit, then trusting, loyal and committed relationships will evolve over time.[3] Both research and our daily experience can tell us the positive outcomes when employees’ perceptions of being supported and cared for is high. For instance, they are more likely to have positive feelings toward the leader and the organization, have higher performance and are more motivated to stand by the group and its goals.[4]

Distinctiveness. Early research evidence has shown that one’s group identity is especially strong when they believe in the distinctiveness and prestige of their group’s values, goals and practices when compared to others[5] (Think about the flat earth example I discussed in a previous blog). Interestingly, even negatively valued distinctions can be associated with strong identification (think about poor Cleveland Browns fans a few years ago). One should note that such distinctiveness should also be clear and consistent. Therefore, to effectively define group identity, a leader should think of a way to make the vision/value/goals of the organization sound unique, innovative and prestigious.

A successfully defined group identity can not only bring forth a cohesive and motivated work force but also create a positive organizational image and attract potential job seekers. According to Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work 2019, most top-ranked companies are described in comments featuring keywords such as: growth, opportunities, happiness/fun, people-oriented/support, culture and value.[6] These organizations truly make the most of their employees feeling like one of “us,” who then go out of their way to praise and support the company.

Remember, as a leader, only when you speak for us, care about us, and behave like us, can your employees accept us and be committed to such an identity.

[1] Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational Dynamics, 18, 19-31.

[2] Deutsch, M. (1958). Trust and suspicion. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 265-279.

[3] Gouldner, A.W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American Sociological Review, 25, 161-178.

[4] Ilies, R., Nahrgang, J. D., & Morgeson, F. P. (2007). Leader-member exchange and citizenship behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of applied psychology92, 269.

[5] Ashforth, B.E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14, 20-39.

[6] Glassdoor, Inc. (2019). 2019 Best places to work: Employees’ choice. [Web log post]. Retrieved May 30th, 2019, from:,19.htm

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.