Take ownership of your work and start to lead, Part 1

Become a Leader: Take ownership of your work and start to lead  · 

So, you have found your workplace, or you have been there for a while already, and now you want to kick it up to a new level. The first thing to do is to show yourself and everyone else around you that you own your position and everything that belongs to it. You do not need a title to be a leader and take responsibility.

First rule for being truly successful at work and in your career: You must own your work completely.

And when I say completely, I really mean everything that it involves; the good, the bad, and the ugly – and everything around it. Let me tell you why and how.

Why ownership?

Varying levels of employee disengagement plagues most companies. This has been the case for as long as companies have existed and they have been paying salaries to people for showing up and doing some work. Regardless of how much we have learned about productivity in the last decades, the situation has not improved much. Nowadays, social media, constant emails, instant messaging, and open-plan offices provide a constant stream of disruptions and reasons to take your focus off your work and spend your time on something else. For most people this kind of work environment is a trap that saps their energy and kills their chances of becoming top performers and advancing their careers to higher levels.

Another aspect of this disengagement is the lack of passion and meaning that many people feel at work. When you do not find the cause of your company particularly interesting and meaningful, it is hard to feel any deeper enthusiasm for your work. Even if the work itself is interesting, the lack of a greater purpose starts to eat out your passion and commitment to work quite quickly, and soon you will just show up for the money. You will do the minimum required and welcome any distractions that help you kill time. If your personal values are actually contradicting with the values and purpose of the company, you are even worse off, and might find yourself living in constant conflict. You will end up feeling like a sellout and being miserable for sacrificing your integrity for money to buy some comfort and security.

If you add many employees’ general lack of personal vision and missing career goals to this equation, it is no wonder that companies are losing hundreds of billions every year in productivity due to poor employee engagement. At the time of writing this book, research shows that the global average for engaged employees is only 13%. This is a huge problem for companies. However, this also presents a real chance for an individual who realises what is going on and is willing to put in the effort, get fully engaged with their work, and invest in their career. It is very easy to shine when everyone else is happy with being mediocre.

There are of course companies that are doing a bit better and have higher levels of employee engagement, but there is always a bell curve of engagement inside every company, and your quickest way to make an impact and advance quickly in your career is to make sure you are on the right side of that curve. Make sure you position yourself on the top end of engagement, and everything else will build on this foundation.  The best way to live and show your engagement is to take full ownership of your work.

What is ownership?

Ownership is dedication; it is commitment, and it is willpower to run with your tasks and responsibilities from the beginning to the end – even (and especially) when things get hard. When you truly own your work, you take care of it, you nurture it, and you prepare yourself for it.  You take constant action and never get paralysed or complain when things don’t work like expected. You find solutions and get things done.

Ownership is about taking responsibility for everything that happens in your domain. Rather than finding excuses for not being able to complete something, you find new ways to break through the barriers. Ownership means that you have your skin in the game, you really care and rejoice when you succeed and feel the pain if you fail. If you never experience joy in succeeding and pain at failing in your work, you are not truly invested and owning it.

Ownership means doing things even when you don’t feel like doing them, even when they are not fun, and even when your first reaction is “I can’t do this”. Ownership means finding the way through every “I can’t” situation and paying the price with your time, energy, work, sweat, and tears. Ownership requires a mindset of “How I can do this” in every situation.

Showing ownership will very quickly build trust towards you and your work efforts amongst your colleagues and management. When you own your work, everyone around you will start to trust you to get everything done, without anyone else needing to push you forward. This attitude and constant drive will also create something I call “positive pressure”, and it will start pushing people around you to contribute more and aim for better results. Your teammates and your manager will feel this, and it will make a huge difference to how you and your work efforts are perceived.

Ownership is also about taking initiative to do things without anyone asking or telling you to. If you see something that is not working or could be improved, you do not wait for someone to fix it. You take the initiative, think about possible solutions and propose them to the people involved in the matter, and then go fixing things. If you need an approval to fix or change things, simply go and ask for it from your manager, and then move on to execution. You shouldn’t need anyone else to supervise or organise your work once you know what is required from you.

Ownership also means making sure that you understand what the meaning of your work is and why and how the things you do matter in the larger context of the company. When you start to grow as an influencer and a leader, you also start to take ownership of the things happening around you; you aren’t focusing only on getting your own work done anymore, but you make sure that your team’s work is done and that the company’s goals are met. You look beyond your regular tasks and find ways to improve the productivity and results of everyone around you.

Ownership is leadership

Taking ownership is also a clear indication of leadership. You might not be leading anyone yet, but you must lead yourself first before you can lead anyone else. When you own your work and tasks, you tend to drive things to completion with determination, and that is exactly what efficient managers do. They make decisions and then drive things and make sure that they get done from start to finish. When you start taking ownership of your own work, don’t be surprised when people start first trusting you and then looking to you as a leader, no matter what title you hold.

For managers and leaders, taking full ownership means that you are responsible for everything that happens in your team. The mistakes, the disputes among team members and missed deadlines – all of it is on your shoulders. Of course, as a manager you cannot and should not micromanage your team on a daily-task level, trying to make sure no one makes mistakes and all tasks get done. Your task is to build, train, and lead a self-reliant team that will work up to your standards and deliver accordingly off their own volition and skill without constant supervision.

Own your mistakes

One of the hardest things in showing true ownership is owning your mistakes and failures. There is, however, no way around it. When you make a mistake, own it. Be open, take responsibility, don’t come up with excuses, and most importantly, do not blame anyone else.  Give an honest apology to everyone affected and let them know how you will do your best to ensure that the same mistake does not happen again.

You will be surprised at how people will react to this. When you are open and take responsibility, there will be many who will come to your aid. They will want to take a part of the blame and they will be ready to give you a hand to remedy the situation. Accept the help, but don’t take the easy way out and share the blame. If it is yours, you should carry it. This behaviour builds strong trust towards you, as you do not try to hide your shortcomings but openly take responsibility and bear the consequences. It will speak to everyone of your character and integrity. However, it is important not to take this too far and wallow in your failure or try to take blame for something you didn’t really do. Be honest, say you are sorry, and move on to fixing the situation.

When you fail at something, you should never take it as a sign that you are a failure. Things you try may fail, projects may fail, but this doesn’t make you a failure. You just don’t have the skills to succeed yet, and you need to train more. Or maybe you didn’t have enough time to focus on the task at hand and should have planned it better. Analyse the situation and determine what went wrong; learn, improve, and try again. If other people were involved, be open about the failure, say that you are sorry, and tell them how you are about to improve the situation. However, if anyone (including your boss), tries to tell you that you are a failure because of a failed attempt, you have my permission to correct their mistake by letting them know what I have written here, and hopefully you will help them to see things in a bit more constructive light.

To put failures in the right perspective, you should know that most successful people in all areas of life swear by learning through their failures, and count all the failures on their path to success as the most precious growth moments and crucibles that shaped them to become what they are now. So, dare to fail, and own your failures with pride. Let your resilience grow, stand up, and go back for more.

Ownership and your management

Showing ownership is one of the most desired qualities of team members amongst managers. Your manager will most likely choose someone who shows ownership for their work much rather than someone who is more skilled in other areas but lacks in demonstrating ownership for their work. I know that I have had to make this choice many times during my own leadership career, and I always picked the one who owned his work. When I am working with teams as a leader, I feel much more frustrated when I see someone not caring if they fail or succeed, compared to the situations when someone really blows it, and then shows the pain of failure. This clearly demonstrates that he put his skin in the game and owns it – even though the results were not exactly what we were hoping for.

It doesn’t sound too hard, doesn’t it? Give it a go and you’ll be amazed at the results you get when you truly take ownership and commit to something.

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