Leaders are often called upon to resolve conflicts and problems. During this process, we all experience varying degrees of ownership from the people involved. The level of ownership significantly affects how we problem-solve with these individuals and the effectiveness of our efforts.
However, ownership is a concept that is often talked about but less understood. Below are five levels of ownership that will help leaders understand the differences.
Level 1: Lack of ownership
Response: “This is not my fault. I did what I was told to do.”
At this level, the person involved will actively distance themselves from the issue, fearing criticism or negative reflections on their performance review. The effort is focused on rationalizing their actions and explaining to others how they were not part of the problem.
The problem with this approach is that while the person may believe they are “safe” by doing this, it creates more doubt in others, especially among team members. It also results in a significant loss of social capital and reflects poorly on their character.
Level 2: Owning intent
Response: “My intent was good, so even if my actions weren’t ideal, I’m not responsible as it came from good intentions.”
This level is typically seen among young adults who have experienced social conflicts and have learned that they will be held accountable for problems. Conveying good intent is important to justify their positions and seemingly wrongdoings.
The problem is that even if the intent was good, if the actions do not align with the intent, people will ultimately remember the decisions and actions. Unless corrective actions are taken in the future, social capital will be lost at this level.
Level 3: Owning actions
Response: “My intent and actions were good, so even if the outcome isn’t good, I did my best, so I’m not responsible, as results were out of my hands.”
This level is commonly seen among working professionals where their managers hold them accountable for activities and “deliverables.” In business cultures that value hard work, focus on target dates, and celebrate launches, this may seem normal and harmless.
The problem is that even if the individual believes they did everything right, if they do not deliver on the outcomes, all recognitions of the actions taken can feel like patting each other on the back. The learning at this level is often limited to “we just have to try harder next time” or blaming the “environment” for missing the target.
Level 4: Owning outcomes
Response: “Although my intent and actions were good, the outcome wasn’t, therefore I am responsible.”
This level is sometimes seen among experienced professionals and seasoned leaders. They realize that owning actions is not enough and that they must ultimately deliver on their outcomes. They track the results as often as possible and course-correct their actions in real-time to change the trajectory of their results. They understand that unless they meet or exceed their outcomes, it is only a matter of time before they are held accountable or replaced.
The only minor issue at this level is that even if the individual succeeds, if their team still misses their goals, they are not winning as a whole.
Level 5: Owning collective outcomes
Response: “Although my intent, actions, and outcome I was personally responsible for were good, our team failed to deliver on the mission, so I ultimately feel responsible for our team. I believe there were ways I could have done things differently or even better to help our team succeed.”
This level is a rare quality even among seasoned leaders. They not only own their personal outcomes and the team they manage, but they expand their responsibility to their peers and the organization they are part of. They understand that unless their team and organization win, they are not truly winning. As a result, they mobilize their resources and efforts beyond their current roles and responsibilities to help elevate the people and teams around them.
At this level, the person takes ownership of not only their own actions and outcomes, but also the collective success of their team and organization. They are willing to go above and beyond to help their team and organization succeed and are not afraid to take on additional responsibility to make it happen.
Understanding these five levels of ownership will help leaders identify where they and their team members fall and make the necessary changes to improve. By moving up the levels of ownership, leaders will be able to take on more responsibility and drive better results for themselves, their teams, and their organizations.
Remember, owning the problem does not mean that you are solely responsible for fixing it. It means that you are willing to take on the challenge and do what it takes to find a solution, even if it means seeking help from others. Taking ownership allows you to be proactive in addressing issues, rather than reacting to them after the fact.
Leaders who embrace ownership create a culture of accountability and responsibility, leading to better outcomes and a more cohesive team. So the next time you face a problem, ask yourself: what level of ownership am I taking?
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