06 Thursday Feb 2014
People like me have two natural settings. We are either 100% invested, completely owning responsibility for a project OR 100% disconnected, allowing responsibility to fall completely on others. I remember taking a trip with a group of friends in college. There were too many strong personalities involved in planning the trip. My default setting in organizing a trip that I cared about would have been to wrestle for control over every decision. But this trip was different. I tried an experiment. I didn’t say a word. I disconnected. I sat back and rolled with the decisions of others. I – surprisingly – liked it. I thought living like this might save me a few years at the end of my life. I was, however, dead weight. My gifts were completely useless to the group. I didn’t add any value.
Working well for someone else drives people like me crazy. Why? Because being a good employee means having 100% ownership of my work, without 100% control (tweet this). Sure, it’s easy for me to sit back and let others make all the decisions and never lift a brain cell to contribute. It’s equally easy for me, though, to make every decision in a vacuum and never lift my eyes and ears for feedback. Neither extreme will make me a valuable employee. I must move into the uncomfortable place of owning the success of my assignments but disowning my ideas.
What do I mean?
- Own the success – Every boss wants to have employees who own their work. Whether you work an assembly line or manage a department, your boss needs you to give your assignment your all. They have other things to focus on. They want to know you’re going to keep the show going, whether they are there or not. They want you to solve problems. It’s true – you’re not the person in charge. But, if you don’t take ownership, you’re no good to the organization. You’re not putting your best foot forward. You’re just a pair of hands waiting to be told what to do.
- Disown your ideas – As much as your boss wants you to completely own your assignments, your boss also wants input into your assignments. They have their own ideas and their own way of doing things. And this is where it gets hard. Confronted with their consistent input, you may think like I have, “If you want me to do it YOUR way, then just do it YOURSELF!” You’re smart, though, so you don’t say that – But your actions are screaming it! You stop thinking, and you stop owning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Owning the success” is different than “owning your ideas”. The truth is that the way you would do things is just that…your idea on how to do things. If you can distance yourself from your own ideas, it’s possible for you to accept feedback and input from your boss and remain in full ownership of your assignments. Your ideas become mere suggestions on how things could be done, and the input and feedback from your boss become guidelines for your success.
There is a lot of management talk about how “controlling” leaders need to become more “empowering”. The idea is that leaders who stop micromanaging every area of their organization will find their employees taking more ownership and producing better results. What’s missing from this idea, though, is the reality that bosses have great input into the work of their employees. They often have more experience to pull from and more intimate connection with the larger picture of the organization. And they ultimately bear more accountability for decisions that are made. They have a right to bring all of that perspective into our decisions, and we should welcome it…because of (not in spite of) our ownership of our assignments.
How about you? Do you wrestle with how to take ownership of assignments that are not completely within your control? How do you handle it?