Without making too sweeping of a generalization, I feel it’s safe to say that all business owners, team leaders, and managers want their teams to work pragmatically, drive impactful outcomes for their organizations and customers, and to ultimately drive results (revenue, customers, and impact going “up and to the right”). Feeling empowered to drive these kinds of results, to think out of the box, and to try things to see what sticks requires more than simply saying “be pragmatic”, though. What is required is a combination of discipline, motivation, and ownership.
Discipline and motivation and learned skills. Exercising for 10 minutes per day 5 days per week requires only discipline. Motivation towards a larger goal is great, but it won’t get you off the couch. In the case of a workout (and one’s fitness), you are the ultimate owner, and are responsible for finding motivation, creating discipline, and being pragmatic about how you approach tackling your goal. You are the owner. Ownership in this context is the default. It too is a learned skill.
In the case of working in a team or business, ownership comes in different forms. Merging a pull request opened by software engineer is an outcome that engineer owns. It’s also an outcome the entire team owns, especially if it moves the project forward toward an outcome. This is one level of ownership.
Building on the pull request example, the ultimate outcome is owned by the entire team. What is the team striving towards? How might we drive impact within our work? These are questions which demonstrate ownership.
“It is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission”. This quote, when used responsibly, demonstrates ownership and pragmatism. If the entire project would break as a result of “trying things”, one could argue this isn’t a great idea. If the decision is low risk and reversible, take action. The key is to consider the decision before taking it.
Zooming back out for a moment, it is easier for a business owner or team leader to feel a sense of ownership over their work. This ownership is directly connected to the risk and outcomes they taken on in their role. Ultimately, they are where the buck stops. How might a team member feel a similar feeling of ownership?
Throughout my career, one common approach to ownership has stood out. Do your best to act and think as if you were in the role above you (your direct manager/leader). How might they address an issue? What might they need in order to do what they need to do? Stepping into their shoes in your mindset and approach helps both you and your direct manager to do your best work.
What if we take this one step further? How might we approach our work if we were the owner of this company? What might we consider when making a decision? How might we mitigate the risks of that decision?
Thoughts and mental exercises are free and carry no risk. Take the plunge. Imagine yourself in the role of the person you report to, and of the business owner if they aren’t the same person. How might you work differently when functioning from this space?