When You Don’t Own It

keep-calm-and-just-own-it“Just own it”. Which is of course the opposite of “Just do it”.  One requires accountability while the other requires initiative.  One without the other can lead to either some pretty radical explosions, or a pet rock.

From the perspective of a leader, there is no shortage of books, articles, and other assorted media devoted to leadership practices that sends the aspiring leader down a path lined with “Carpe Diem” signs.

carpeSo, what is divined by the “Lean In” philosophy as one travels around seizing that which can be seized, owning everything in sight and generally acting like a repo man on crack? What’s the trap here?

Accountability is one of the bedrock principles of a leader.  You “own” your team’s problems, their outputs, their failures, as you should.  You get to own a little bit of their successes but you should always use those situations to spread credit, and not seize it. So, far, no issue with the metaphysical sticky hands, right?

Here’s the trap.  As a leader, you are operating in a position within your organization with responsibilities and expectations.  Your team serves the organization, not you.  When you began to think that their prime purpose is to enrich you and your advancement, you have turned an intellectual corner in the field of leadership.funny-theres-no-i-in-team

You are borrowing your position and title, by holding it in trust for the next person to come along and use it.  It is a car that you must polish and maintain, but which you cannot sell.  It is a garden that you must faithfully weed and water, for which the harvest serves everyone except you.  Get that through your head.  Your team is not yours to use at your convenience or for your own benefit.  It belongs to the organization and it is entrusted to you until it’s not.

As most (good) chief executives will tell you, their value to the organization is almost exponentially proportional to the point at which they admit that they will not be here forever.  The prime directive for a person at the top of org chart is to use the view to discern what is on the horizon, and prepare the team for it.  Item one is their own departure.  Even leaders at a first-line level can take heed from this perspective.

Are you creating a timid group of reports who can’t function without you? Are your rules and procedures designed to ensure nothing happens in your absence? dilb successionDo people refuse to move unless you have blessed it, in writing? Have you built yourself into the single point of failure for every possible action your team may or may not take?

You have been lent a gift.  Take care of it, and leave it in good shape for the next one.

Hand Passing Baton, Motion Blur