Own the Organization

Leaders often talk about instilling a “sense of ownership” in the people they lead—a pride and stewardship of work that transcends the rote completion of projects.

It makes sense. When you own a home, for example, things matter differently than when you’re renting. Is the heat that’s trapped in the roof going to one day bring structural damage? Is the condensation from your not-up-to-code air conditioner going to eventually cause your ceiling to collapse? When deciding whether to update the kitchen or add a deck, you‘ll surely weigh which is more necessary with consideration to your overall budget.

We ask these questions and seek the best decisions for our homes because of the significant long-term investment that we have in them economically and emotionally. Similarly, I encourage the people in my department to approach their work and decisions with such mindfulness.

In fact, I ask them to imagine that they own the entire organization.

This is a powerful exercise.

From this framework, people naturally find themselves measuring wider implications. Will my approach advance the mission of my institution? Is this fiscally responsible? How will this impact our reputation? These are all considerations that will come to mind.

It empowers people who might not have thought it possible to raise such concerns to share innovative solutions, all the while dissipating personal agendas for the good of the whole.

But the most poignant effect of asking people to imagine that they own the organization is that they will fundamentally question the nature of the work at hand. They will dispute dominant logic and challenge prior ways of thinking out of a greater sense of responsibility for the outcome. The company is theirs, after all, and its future depends on them.

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