Our I-WE-YOU Leadership Model

Executive Central’s I-WE-YOU leadership model is a practical and effective framework that we coach organizational leaders to use. It is one of the key pieces of intellectual property we have developed based on extensive research and professional practice.

I-WE-YOU describes the shift of focus and value delivery that leaders must make as they evolve and unlock their full leadership potential. It references the work of several leading leadership theorists.

I-WE-YOU diagram

Charan & Drotter (2001) in The Leadership Pipeline describe six passages in the life of a leader; from managing self to managing others, then managing managers, managing a function, and so on, up to enterprise management. With each passage leaders must shift their focus on operations, strategy, and people management. The essential changes are based on a leader’s place in the organisational structure, and their changing responsibilities.

Jim Collins (2001) in Good to Great describes five levels of leadership; from capable individuals through to contributing team members, competent managers, effective business leaders and executives. Collins’ model is focused on organizational culture and relationships within that culture, and the inner development of leaders, as well as the gradual expansion of domains and the transition through a hierarchy of roles.

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.” — Andrew Carnegie

The idea of Servant Leadership, popularised by Robert Greenleaf (2002) and others, is another concept that our I-WE-YOU model references. It actually has its roots in antiquity: in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and the teachings of Lao-Tzu. The Sage is self-effacing and scant of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say:

“We ourselves have achieved it.” — LAo Tzu (C.500BC)

As executive coaches we look for a shift of focus from self, to others, to organisation. This shift occurs at a micro level in conversations, and at a macro level in an overall career. The shift of focus has a profound effect on an executive’s relationship with the organisation. It is a shift from a transactional and instrumental approach to others, to a relational and visionary approach.


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci

The beauty of a simple model is that you can adapt it to different contexts. We use the I-WE-YOU model in three layers, moving from micro (skills) to macro (strategy). At each layer there are a range of developmental tools, including conversations, diagnostics, reading, challenges, and projects, to support change. Those three layers are described as follows:

  • Critical conversations

As coaches we notice the use of language. We discuss the use of personal pronouns and this leads to a critical conversation about the allocation of responsibility and credit as a leader.

  • Leadership skill development

The I-WE-YOU model provides a framework for structuring skills development for an individual leader. First we focus on the client themselves (the executive or manager being coached), with diagnostics, feedback loops, and the self-awareness elements of Emotional Intelligence. Secondly we might focus on the ‘WE’ through team building skills, developing consultative and collaborative approaches and managing change. Then our focus will shift to a more strategic perspective on networking and the leader’s broader influence on the organisation.

  • Strategy

I-WE-YOU provides a characterization of the life-long leadership journey. It gives leaders an overview of the stages of leadership. It provides a template against which executives can assess their own leadership journey in line with the organizational values and vision they are working to. This is a philosophical and strategic dialogue about the leader’s goals for themselves and for the organisation.

By using models such as I-WE-YOU we support our clients to grow their own leadership and that of the broader organisation they contribute to.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams


“We think that any organisation in the business of performance improvement should absolutely guarantee its own performance. We believe so strongly in the success of our work and stand so firmly by our results that we offer a full or partial service refund if clients don’t see expected returns.”

Rob Balmer, Managing Director, Executive Central


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