How True Leaders Take Ownership: Attitude, Fearlessness and Transparency

Claiming responsibility successfully requires the right attitude, fearlessness and transparency.

Businesswoman
Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com

To take ownership of a decision, project or task, leaders or those aspiring to become leaders need to assume both the initiative to carry it out and the accountability for every facet of the outcome. Leaders who model ownership in their behavior end up with employees who take ownership of their work, too. Taking ownership empowers others to take risks because they feel safe enough to make mistakes and ask for the right support to fix them.

This is the key to career advancement and becoming a great leader. Claiming responsibility for your path and demonstrating your competency by taking ownership over everything you do will ensure you're reaching your full potential. Doing this successfully requires the right attitude, fearlessness and transparency.

It Starts With Owning an Attitude

The first part of taking ownership is taking responsibility for the attitudes about a project. Leaders need a deep understanding of how their attitudes and behaviors impact those of their employees. Bosses commonly give employees projects to manage early in their careers as opportunities to demonstrate their competency in being a leader. They give them a deliverable and explain the potential obstacles as well as the resources available, but they often forget to establish the right attitude needed to accomplish the goal. Instead, leaders should take ownership of the team's attitude toward a project from the start by modeling the attitude they want to see.

People only believe a project can be successful if they know the leader behind it also believes in its success, so sell people on that belief at every opportunity. At my company, a recent upscaling from 100,000 to 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space was going to significantly increase our overhead, but despite the cost, we got company buy-in by explaining where the project would take us. People in sales would make more commissions. Those in procurement could get inventory on the shelf more easily. The engineers would have more space to develop products. By explaining the steps, outcome and support we planned to offer along the way, we got the attitude toward the project we wanted. Convince people that doing the work is worth their time and energy, and take ownership of the team attitude needed for its success.

Be Fearlessly Transparent

Taking ownership requires fearlessness, and you can set yourself up to be fearless with a safety net of transparency. Transparency helps with fearlessness because, with nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Without it, a company can get so caught up dealing with internal challenges, obstacles or personality conflicts that the competition wins.

Fearless transparency, even when it might be painful, lets leaders create a safe place for their team to be fearless, too. About 10 years ago when we were still manufacturing everything domestically, we found a quality partner outside the U.S. for lower-cost labor. Once we drafted the plan, I brought it directly to the people it would affect the most: the manufacturing and operations team.

As the owner of that plan, transparency was my responsibility so everyone could feel safe enough to carry it out. I explained that we needed them to transfer their knowledge to an international partner and that, rather than taking work away, adding low-cost labor would bring more complex products to the domestic floor. Instead of fearing change would cost them their jobs, they felt empowered as a crucial part of that change. My transparency earned their trust and enabled them to move the project forward fearlessly, nearly doubling our domestic employees and helping us grow to over 1,000 workers internationally.

It Only Works With Both

Someone who is transparent but too fearful to ever act on a plan is hardly taking ownership of that plan, but fearlessness without transparency isn't true ownership either. Early in my career, I was working with a team to establish customer service and lead time models. I wasn't getting what I needed from the project managers or their boss to make it happen. So, I went around everyone. I was fixated on getting my outcome and fearless about finding the support I needed and that I thought the company needed. I went three levels over their heads. I thought I was taking ownership and being a leader. But as a result, I was fired. Without transparency in my plan, there were lingering insecurities around it, and that kind of ownership got me into trouble.

Later in my career, after being with a company for two months, I was on a plane returning from a trade show, and the president and head of technology told me they were going to resign. People were afraid. Without leadership, they could have scattered in a million directions, but I had a plan. This time, I learned from my mistakes and knew how to get buy-in with transparency. I laid out the steps and market support behind my idea and took that position to my boss, who bought into the plan and spread that buy-in across the organization. The project allowed everyone to channel their fears in a positive way, and over the next four years, the company grew rapidly. Even when it's fearless, ownership is only as good as the buy-in above and below you in an organization, and buy-in only comes with transparency.

Taking ownership can be difficult, especially when it involves responsibilities like transparency and taking risks, but both are keys to successful leadership. Know the risks and be fearlessly transparent about them by proposing smart ways to approach and mitigate them. Along the way, establish and maintain the attitude you want to see from your employees by modeling it yourself as you take these risks and make decisions together. Taking ownership doesn't have to start with some massive project that turns the company around. The first steps can be as simple as doing what others ask of you to the best of your ability. Apply a sense of ownership to every task moving forward and you'll become a stronger leader through practice.

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