A formula for instilling ownership in the people you lead

“I wish they would take more ownership. I’m giving my all, sacrificing so much to ensure we’re successful. I don’t understand why they aren’t doing the same.” These were the words I heard from a business owner in a recent strategy session who was feeling frustrated by the lack of drive he observed in his employees. He’s not alone. Leaders at the top often feel more committed to the organization’s goals than those at lower levels. They want others to be equally committed, but how?

Well, certain dynamics exist at senior leadership levels that don’t naturally exist at lower levels; and it’s these very dynamics that cause leaders to feel a strong sense of ownership. Among them are these four.

  1. HIGH STAKES: Senior leaders have a lot at stake. The health of the business is dependent upon their success. Employees are relying on them to provide consistent paychecks. If they fail, they don’t just fail themselves; they fail everyone who is relying on them. This pressure and these high stakes inspire commitment and hard work.
  2. PURPOSE: Leaders at the top get to see the big picture; they understand where the organization is heading and why because they are the ones steering it. From this position, they can see a direct correlation between their work and the organization’s influence on the world. Seeing the impact of their work creates a sense of purpose and feelings of value and worth. Purpose is one of the most powerful motivators.
  3. CREATIVITY: Most senior leaders do not follow a job manual. It’s assumed (and expected) that they will use their own creativity to tackle their work. Having freedom to try new things, set direction, and be creative builds a sense of ownership.
  4. FLEXIBILITY: What if a senior leader doesn’t want his first meeting of the day to start at 7:00? Then he dictates that it will start at 8. What if he needs to head out early one afternoon? Then he heads out early and catches up on work that evening. Senior leaders have the flexibility to manage how and when they get the job done. Even if total hours worked are long, this type of flexibility is motivating and helps work feel life–giving, rather than draining.  

So back to the question: how can leaders inspire employees to take more ownership? By replicating the dynamics experienced at senior leadership levels across all other levels. 

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You can’t command someone to take ownership, they need to feel it. Give them more responsibility with higher stakes. Connect their work to the bigger picture, enabling them to see their purpose and know the value they’re bringing. Empower them to try new approaches, to exercise creativity. And, lastly, give more flexibility—focus on what they deliver, not how, when or where they did it.

Elevate your employees. Create work environments where they feel trusted and needed. Give them more ownership. It can feel risky, but know this: they will give more of themselves in return. 

Abbey Louie

Abbey uses over a decade of talent management experience to help organizations drive business results through enhanced employee engagement. She is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to be their best. She's also a mom to two sweet girls, a wife to one good man, and a fan of running and hosting dinner parties.