Leadership and management experts will tell you that in order for individuals or groups to care about something, they have to feel ownership of it, whether that be an organization, a mission, or simply an idea. Ownership of anything (be it an idea or a physical object) includes caring for that item, stewarding the item, ensuring the item works, and being proud of the item. I have a good friend who is a car fanatic, and as I watch him “own” his cars, he does all of the above – with much fanfare and enthusiasm.
This week I had the opportunity to watch a group of people begin to own a part of Concordia’s structure which they had been asked to join, something known as Concordia’s University Council. More than owning the group, they began to own the reason why the group will exist and its function within the University. It was magic to watch how a group of 24 individuals came together for three hours and claimed ownership of the function of the group over a short period of time. Through the process of talking, questioning, testing ideas, and an open space in which to think, this group began building its own charter by which they would function in, with, and for their organization. And by building the charter themselves, there is a better chance they will own what they do and how they do it. And if they own it, they will take responsibility for its function and outcomes. I am excited to watch what happens over the next few months as we figure out exactly what this charter will look like and how the group begins to own WHAT it does and HOW it does its work.
Now let me take a little side trip here (or as a good friend of mine likes to say…SQUIRREL!). I have come to realize that no one can force ownership upon any one person or a group of people. You can give them ownership…you can ask them to take ownership…you can write ownership into their job description…but until they TAKE ownership on their own, they will be unable to care for and steward the item given them. Leading cannot entail only giving ownership…leaders must create the environment in which others can take ownership and truly own what they believe is important. How does this happen? A few thoughts:
- Allow others to create the reason for ownership
- Create the space and the time for people to consider what it actually is they might be owning
- Ask questions that allow for people to dialogue on what ownership means
- Put people together with disparate ideas so that the best ideas can emerge
- Let the group decide what they believe is most important
- Words are important – be sure that the individual or the group know exactly what it is they are owning and are able to express it in a consistent and coherent manner
- Don’t ever (I repeat, ever) take back the ownership once they have accepted it it…AND if they choose not to take ownership, then take it back and find someone else to give it to
- Realize that they may want to take ownership but do not yet know how to care and steward for what they have accepted – this is where training and discipling comes into play
- This isn’t about delegating ownership – you as the leader own whatever this is as well…it is about sharing ownership and working together for the good of the organization, idea, or goal