A leader can never give anyone ownership of a business initiative or objective.
Ownership is always taken, and to take ownership requires the will to do so. A leader can no more give someone ownership than a leader can give someone will.
Ownership is an attitude, not a management prescription. Click To Tweet
When I assess a manager’s degree of ownership, I always ask his or her top priorities for change in the business to achieve success in the business area for which he or she is accountable. A manager with a high degree of ownership invariably cites actions they are personally doing or plan to do, whereas a manager with a low degree of ownership cites changes others must make as a prerequisite for his or her own success.
I was recently conducting one such assessment with a group of sales managers. Managers with a high degree of ownership cited actions like coaching individual staff in sales techniques he or she felt needed improvement, rotating accounts among sales staff so each learns to work successfully with a variety of customers, starting seminars on the technology and science related to new products the company plans to launch next year, and developing capabilities to move fast on marketing as soon as the new products are launched.
Managers with a low degree of ownership cited an organizational change over which he or she has no control or say, a change in the company’s vision as a pre-requisite for motivating his or her staff, and change in the approved use of the product, which happens to be subject to governmental regulatory control.
While the changes that the low ownership managers are advocating may or may not be reasonable is not a relevant question. Except in rare cases, it is unlikely, even with restrictions on authority and budget, that there is nothing significant that a manager can do to improve results. As a leader, were you even able fix the problems a low ownership manager cited, it would never be enough. He or she will always find a host of factors outside his or her control on which to blame the inability to improve.
A high ownership manager will always find something he or she can do to make his or own success. Ownership for them is an inherent way in which they think and work. Help clear the way with more authority and resources, and a high ownership manager will immediately use these to further his or her success, whereas for the low ownership manager nothing you do will ever be enough. Apply further restrictions on authority and resources, and a high ownership manager will innovate ways to succeed despite your actions. The low ownership managers will, however, see your actions as further justification for their cynicism, fatalism, and lassitude.
A manager’s ownership is yours neither to give or to remove. It is an attitude inherent to him or her. All you can do is identify those who have ownership, and clear the way for them so they can thrive. For those who lack ownership, you can merely move them aside to make room for those who do.
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