People who think and act like owners are happier, healthier, and more effective at work.
Layoffs, dinosaur management styles, "do more with less," and constant role/responsibility reshuffles are the new "normal." And, these things certainly haven't made it easy for folks to have a sense of ownership and engagement in their companies. In fact, I had a junior executive tell me recently, "This organization tries to make us think they’re forward thinking . . . but really, they’re downsizing like crazy, bureaucratic and standard issue."
Given such widespread shortcomings, exacerbated by the crappy economy, my advice that you: a) own your own behavior, mistakes, and results, rather than attribute it to circumstances, the economy, or "them" (your boss or company), and b) start making decisions and communicating in a way that cares for the organization, as an owner might do, probably strike you as oddly out of sync with reality.
Yet they're not. For example, an aerospace client at a company undergoing a merger recently told me he was struggling. In the post-merger organization, his role was in question, his division was similar to one in the other party in the merger, he’d been given a new boss without fanfare or explanation, and his people were wondering what that meant for them. He had become less productive, started brooding, and generally was not feeling the love. He told me:
“They haven’t defined my new job—or the role of my division—yet. I don’t know where this is heading. They’re giving me projects that don’t make sense. Now I have no idea what I need to do to get promoted. Things are spookily quiet.”
He was spending a lot of time, during which normally he’d be quite busy, sitting in his office and worrying. I suggested that if he’s inclined to spend more time with his family, this may be a better use time than agonizing over the unknown. Another option I gave him was not to wait for “them,” but to take an active role in redefining himself and his division, and start making proposals about what that could look like. I said, “Think like a owner, and ask yourself—and others in your network—what do we need here? Then propose that.”
Among about half of my senior executive clients, there’s a tendency to think and act like passengers more so than drivers. The underlying assumptions seem to be oriented toward “they,” rather than the “we” mentality. We have a term for that in coaching, but it’s not really that important. It’s just human nature for about half of us. The healthiest thing we can do is to augment our nature by identifying it, and then counterbalancing it by being a bit more of our opposite. So the “they” clients, who others perceive as a bit victim-esque, always benefit from taking a more I / we approach. For example:
- “I need to rethink my own role, and that of my division, post-merger, and help the organization use me in the most effective way.”
- “I need to help the organization do a great job of defining ROI (Return on Investment) of each project, and help put a process in place that will avoid wasting time and money from now on.”
- “I need to help the organization understand how I can add value in a more senior capacity.”
Some hesitate because they may not think they have the positional authority (that is, clout and/or title in their current role) to carry off an ownership perspective. If that’s you, then let it go. Thinking globally and acting locally can indeed be carried off with minimal positional authority on your part, provided you are tuned in to the cultural norms of your company, and how to get things done without ruffling the wrong feathers.
Maybe you have a more controlling type of boss who’s shown they are less open to suggestions. Sound familiar? Then you may want to address that head on with your boss, privately. Ask permission to have the discussion, then put it out there (e.g., “Can I talk to you Jack? I’ve made a number of suggestions recently, and noticed you’ve been unmoved / doubtful / dismissive, and am wondering if you could give me some insight about that, and learn what I need to know for future suggestions.” Push to shove, if “that’s the way it is: deal with it” then you may be limiting yourself by working for someone so unreceptive, and ask yourself if hanging on to your job is really worth a slavish life.
It works if you work it. I had a client recently at a professional services firm who had been passed up for promotion a number of years running. When she started “thinking like an owner,” rather than worrying about what “they” think, and when “they’ll” appreciate her contributions, all of a sudden opportunities for her to do just that started to become apparent to her. As a person newly in the “driver’s seat” she became more creative, engaged, happier, and, ironically, started caring less about what they think or might or might not “give” her. And guess what? She’s a ton more productive too. She got the promotion, proving the point that ownership is leadership.
Think and act like an owner—just do it!