“It’s good to trust people but it’s even better to control them!”

I want to share a simple insight that has the potential to change the engagement and ownership of your organisation.

The one insight you need before you can grow your team’s sense of ownership

One of the leaders in our current Impact Accelerator programme, Bart, sends me a weekly reflection on his insights and progress. Last month the programme helped him put his finger on a game-changing truth. It’s relevant to some degree for almost every leader I know.

This is what he wrote:

”Last week I realised I was the main reason why other people around me weren’t taking decisions or taking full responsibility for their parts of the business.

I noticed that I was constantly telling people what to do and how to do it. I was disappointed when the result was different from what I’d hoped for — and this was the case every time. I was working harder in order to make sure the job was done my way.

I realise that if I proceed this way I’ll deliver nice results, but the significant impact will be zero.

This reminds me of my previous boss for whom I have a lot of respect and who was a mentor to me. He worked 80-hour weeks, never took a holiday and was feared but respected through the group. He always told me, “It's good to trust people, but it's even better to control them”.

Last month he was fired after several decades in the group. When I caught up with him, he told me that he hated his work for years and years because he was constantly solving repetitive problems, feeling stuck in a vicious circle.

I came to realise that I am on the same road. But I want to break out: I don't want to control people. I want to make them better and create a significant impact!”

The ‘Ownership Problem’

Helping high-achieving leaders create more engagement, alignment and ownership in their teams is a core part of what we do, because it’s a key bottleneck that most leader face.

If you can’t “win hearts and minds” and instead you’re having to manage on a task-by-task basis then your ability to multiply your impact is really limited.

The ‘Ownership Problem’ is that it’s a vicious circle, just as Bart explained. The more you control people, the less engagement they show — and the less engaged they seem to be, the more you feel you need to control them.

As a result, the leader becomes overworked and a bottleneck, and the team comply but fail to bring their best to the business. Lots of money left on the table, and everybody is working a level or two below their best.

Taking responsibility for the ‘ownership problem’, then taking action

I’ll write more about creating ownership in future articles - it’s a critical subject and we now have a robust methodology to improve ownership in organisations.

But for now, two challenges for you:

  • Take Responsibility: Acknowledge the degree to which your desire to drive things forward, move fast and be in control may be sapping the ownership of your team. This ‘radical responsibility’ will unlock so much for you.
  • Take Action: Identify one specific ‘moment of truth’ coming up where you can experiment with a different approach, controlling less and empowering more.

Bart did exactly those two things. The first part of his message (above) was about taking responsibility for the situation, and the final part of his email (below) was about him taking action:

Last week I had an important internal meeting with my executive peers, about some key processes in the business. I knew the answers (or had good ideas) for each of the questions we had to address. However, I promised myself to listen and ask questions instead of asserting my point of view. Within one hour, we achieved a consensus that was even better than I hoped for.

You can see that he created an intentional experiment: what would happen if he held back on his own ideas and requirements, and focused on drawing out his colleagues instead? And the result was better than he’d hoped, giving him confidence to try more experiments and shift his behaviour over the weeks ahead.

What’s one way in which you diminish the sense of ownership and engagement of the people around you? And what’s one tiny experiment you can conduct to try a different approach in the coming week?


PLUS, whenever you're ready, why not hit the accelerator on your journey of exponential impact by working with us, or by picking up a copy of Making TIME For Strategy?

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