Ownership Has its Downside 

Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting trend within many organizations. There is a move towards building language into organizational values and competency models that tell people that they need to “Act Like Owners” or have “Entrepreneurial Spirit” or the like. 

I understand the subtext to these words: we want people who’ll take accountability. But, here’s the thing, phrases like that – especially if they’re not clearly defined – tend to get interpreted by people through their own biased point of view. So, depending on who’s buying into that phrase, you may unleash some expectations into your team or organization that you’re not quite ready for.  

As someone who is an owner and who spends a lot of time with other entrepreneurs who are also owners, I wonder if most companies really want “owners.” Here’s what I know about people who are owners: 

  • We will take risks that may not pay off in the short-term to deliver long-term value. When you’re the “owner” you can decide if you’re okay with missing profit or revenue targets.
  • We will pay ourselves less than the people on the front line when we’re pushing for growth because that’s sometimes what it takes to push you through to the next level. 
  • We think of every minute as a dollar being either made or wasted. So, no, we won’t go to meetings that don’t have agendas and we won’t waste time on activities that don’t drive a return.
  • We drive culture the way we want to drive culture. For better or worse, an owner will set the tone for their organization.
  • But most of all… we have the full autonomy to make the decisions for our business the way we want to make them regardless of how inclusive we are with our team members. Ultimately, the buck does stop with the owner.

When I think about my own business, I wonder, “Do I want my team members to act like owners?”

My short answer is “I don’t think so.” That would probably create chaos if everyone was acting like an owner independently from each other. 

Instead, I want members of my team to take collective ownership for the health and success of our business by bringing their best talents to the table. 

I also want to remove myself from being the most relied on person in the business. One of the traps that owners can fall into is that they become indispensable to the business. If your business can’t survive without the owner then it’s probably not much of a business. 

If your team can’t survive without you, it’s probably not much of a team. 

As leaders, I believe we all have a responsibility to cultivate collective ownership, not simply cultivate individuals who take personal ownership. Here are three ways do this at The Roundtable that might help you shift in this direction: 

  1. Cultivate candour. We share individual goals and support each other in our development at The Roundtable by using techniques like “FeedForward” and developmental 360 feedback. We view it as our collective responsibility to grow together and support each other along the way.
  2. Cultivate trust and connection. Getting to know each other, our work styles, our pet peeves, our biases are all critical activities that we do on an ongoing basis to continue to work with each other strengths and have those candid conversations that are so key to success. We build activities and conversations into our performance pre-views (not reviews… we don’t do those), our quarterly and annual team off-sites and one-to-one check-ins.
  3. Clarify and communicate. We have lots of meetings, but they are focussed, as short as possible and have a clear purpose. Meetings that aren’t working are eliminated and we consistently recalibrate our expectations based on the ever growing and changing needs of our business. Communication and revisiting expectations are crucial in order for people to be able to take ownership and meet expectations.

Moving beyond ego as an individual isn’t easy. Moving beyond collective ego is even more challenging. And yet, it’s those leaders and teams who can lean into vulnerability and tap into the collective power of the team’s wisdom and capabilities that will enjoy the spoils of sustainable results. If you want people to “act like owners,” take the time to really define what your expectations are around ownership and be clear on the boundaries. Don’t just leave it up to vague interpretations. 

If you’re interested in learning how we can help you move from individual ownership to collective ownership, reach out. We’ve developed a systematic approach to developing leaders and shifting culture and we’d love to share it with you.  



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