Organizations can no longer rely on traditional command-and-control management if they want to keep up with today’s fast-moving world. The traditional model just takes too long as the people on the ground wait for orders to cascade down before taking action. Instead, the teams executing the work need to demonstrate leadership and make decisions as they move quickly. What drives that leadership? A sense of ownership at every level.
What does ownership mean for different levels of the organization? Let’s take a look from the perspective of a software company. It’s what I know and, let’s face it, nearly every company has software running critical aspects of its business.
Ownership as an individual contributor
If you’re a developer in a small startup, hopefully you already feel a sense of ownership. But for established and bigger companies, it’s not atypical for software developers to primarily be order-takers. In this day and age, that kind of approach will likely derail the long-term success of the company. It will almost certainly cripple your career growth.
By acting like an owner, anyone can be a leader, no matter where they rank in the company. Here are some steps you can take to behave more like an owner:
- Avoid “not my problem” syndrome
- Don’t throw things over the wall — own your code from commit to production
- Boy Scout rule — leave code better than you found it, and work with your team to enforce quality
- Take it personally when something goes wrong
- Work within the framework but always look for opportunities to improve
Ownership as a manager
I’ve been lucky enough to have some great managers in my career, but I’ve also been around more than a few managers who refuse to relinquish control. It may be insecurity or it may just be that’s the only way they know how to manage. But as I noted earlier, that style of management will result in you getting left behind by companies that embrace ownership at every level.
As a manager, it’s incumbent on you to help create a culture where people can seize their opportunities and demonstrate leadership. Here are some things to consider:
- Lead by example, and establish a consistent framework that helps guide your team to make decisions on their own
- Recognize and reward people who take initiative
- When you see people avoiding responsibility, use it as a teaching moment
- Don’t be afraid to delegate and put people in stretch positions — that’s the only way they will learn and progress
- Make it okay for people on your team to fail, as long as they are trying to do the right thing and learn from the failure
- Always be thinking about grooming your replacement — it may be a cliché but it’s the best way for you to advance
No matter where you rank in a company, approach your job as if you were an owner. Lead by example and be accountable. Share your experience, and encourage ownership and leadership in others around you. Behaving like an owner is contagious, and the more it spreads, the more successful your organization will be.
Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the responses.
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