5 Ways to Inspire Ownership

Westjet is a Canadian airline with a unique corporate structure: each Westjet employee is also a shareholder. They claim that this provides their employees with the incentive to go the extra mile, because each employee is not just an employee but also a part-owner.

You want your team to take ownership.

Most organizations do not structure themselves in this way, but the notion is an important one. As a leader, you want your team to take ownership. Whether you are overseeing a team project, an executive team, or your high school basketball team, you want everyone on your team to act as though they have a personal ownership stake.

I am going to give you five ways to inspire ownership in your team.

1. Give up power

Leadership is not about power; it is about empowerment.

If you keep everyone on too tight of a leash, you will suffocate your team. Delegation is key. When you delegate a task to a member of your team, you delegate responsibility.

To be clear, you are still responsible for the team so at the end of the day if something goes wrong it is still your problem to fix, but the delegation of authority and responsibility gives that team member the opportunity to make a personal impact on that project or task. Human beings are more likely to take ownership over a task/project if they believe that they have a personal stake in it.

When I was going through grad school, I volunteered with a local youth program that attracted nearly 300 middle and high school students every Friday night (closer to 500 students on special events). The key to their success was identifying students with leadership potential and giving them basic responsibility. Armed with such responsibility, these students took ownership over the program and invited all of their friends. By delegating responsibility, the program saw exponential growth in a short period of time (more on this in a future post).

2. Believe in your team

Okay, so you’ve delegated responsibility to a team member to complete a certain project. That team member is excited about the opportunity and has taken charge of that project. Since you are still the leader, you are still responsible for the outcome, so you do everything you can to make sure that it is completed exactly how you would have done it. Right?

I hope you can tell what is wrong with that scenario. That is a classic example of micromanagement. You could argue that it’s not micromanagement when it was your  project to begin with, but you would be wrong.  When you hand off responsibility to a team member, you have to trust them to do the job.

When your team members know that you trust them to do the job, they will step up to the challenge and take ownership. If they do not, then you have done a poor job of gathering your team. If you have not had the luxury of building your own team and must work with people who have been assigned to you, then delegate accordingly.

3. Foster a culture of encouragement

Encouragement is a common thread in my blog, because I truly believe that encouragement is the best way to get results from your team. Positive reinforcement encourages strong behaviour attributes.

More importantly, regular encouragement from upper levels of management fosters a culture of encouragement in your organization. Such a culture promotes optimism and positivity. A culture of constant correction and discipline, on the other hand, fosters discontentedness, animosity, fear, and apathy.

This is not to say that there is not a time and place for discipline and correction. If a team member is out of line and needs to be corrected, that is the job of you, as the leader, to deal with in a timely manner. Further, if you are an editor or have a similar role, you have to make editorial corrections where needed. Still, the prevailing sense in your organization should be one of optimism and positivity, not fear and anger.

4. Make excellence a priority

Imagine for a moment that you are a business owner looking to hire a new assistant. You interview two different people for the position. On paper, they are virtually identical with similar qualifications; in person, however, the first interviewee showed up in a suit and was well-prepared while the second showed up in a track suit and seemed to not care. Who are you more likely to hire? Obviously, the applicant who was better prepared and better dressed.

Excellence attracts people.

Your organization is just like a job applicant; excellence attracts people. If you want your team to take ownership over your organization, give them something worth owning. Humans want to be associated with excellence, so if you foster excellence and make excellence a priority, your team will want to take ownership. After all, we would all rather be associated with something great than something mediocre.

You want people in your organization who take pride in excellence, and that starts from the top: from you. If you want your team to dress well, you should dress better; if you want your team to be early for work, show up even earlier; if you want your team to take ownership, take ownership yourself.

5. Project your vision

As a leader, it is easy to get caught up in the tasks that need to be done. Sometimes you need to take a step back and remember why it is that you do what you do. Working your butt off is not taking ownership; working your butt off with a vision for the future is ownership. If you find yourself losing that vision, it is time for you to remove yourself from the busyness of your job and reignite that vision.

I can tell you from personal experience how easy it is to lose sight of vision. I have gone to weekly meetings wondering why everyone else seems so removed from the discussion and why everyone seems to lack vision, and then I realize that I’m doing the exact same thing. When you as a leader lack vision, your team will lack it too. If your team is going to take ownership, you need to project that vision for them.

Do you lack a personal vision for your life? Check out You Can’t Reach What You Can’t See: Developing a Personal Vision for Your Life. This workbook is designed to help you find your passions and create a personal vision and plan for your own life.

Dynamic lessons

Fostering ownership in your organization will help drive your team and organization into the next level. When team members take ownership, your organization will thrive. I gave you five ways to inspire ownership in your organization and on your team.

  1. Give up power. Leadership is not about power; it is about empowerment. Empower your team to succeed and they will reward you for it.
  2. Believe in your team. Don’t micromanage. Let your team take initiative, make mistakes, and take responsibility.
  3. Foster a culture of encouragement. By encouraging your team, you will build a culture of optimism and excitement instead of fear and anger.
  4. Make excellence a priority. People are attracted to excellence, and your team will want to be associated with excellence.
  5. Project your vision. It is so easy for you and your team to lose sight of your vision. Reinforce it at every opportunity. Make vision paramount.

What other ways have you successfully inspired ownership in your organization or on your team?

Books that influenced this article:

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. Maxwell

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

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