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  • WSL Leadership

Ownership? What's the deal?

The practice of ownership can help you be a more motivated and effective leader of your own life - not to mention boosting your leadership in your work or sport or whatever else you have going on.

Ownership is being accountable for your actions - your actual behavior. What you actually do. It might seem obvious that you are fundamentally responsible for what you do but there are so many very popular ways to avoid ownership. And it is equally obvious (even painfully obvious) when this happens.

Have you heard the phrase “mistakes were made….”? Some classic ownership avoidance there. Or how about “it wasn’t me...” which is usually followed by putting the blame on someone else. More subtle sometimes is “I did the right thing but you reacted badly” - hello, gaslighting. Being aware of the outcomes of your actions matters - those are your responsibility - and sometimes a path to overthinking then to analysis paralysis which is another avoidance method that is popular with some folks.

It can be cringy to watch folks avoid ownership but more importantly, it erodes trust - especially when it is super obvious to everyone involved who needs to take ownership and for what actions. You can almost see the trust evaporate watching folks roll their eyes when listening to someone avoid ownership or blame others. Don’t be that someone. Trust is easy to lose and hard to build - taking ownership is something that builds trust. “Silent ownership” isn’t really a thing and just looks like avoidance to everyone else.

Taking ownership makes apologies meaningful, gets everyone on the same page moving in the same direction and can turn a mistake into a lesson that brings people together instead of driving people apart.

Besides the impact of ownership on other people there are significant impacts on your motivation and self-efficacy. “Locus of control” is a person’s understanding of the power to make things happen. An external locus of control means that someone feels like they have no choice and everything is out of their control - metaphorically an external locus of control is like a ship adrift on the ocean with the tides and wind taking it wherever they want. That ship (aka person) goes wherever the tides or wind are headed with no intentional direction. An internal locus of control means the ship has sails, a rudder and maybe even an engine that can take it wherever it wants to go. The ship (person) chooses their destination, route and can get there - that’s internal locus of control.

Ownership builds your internal locus of control by reminding you that your choices have an impact. Practicing ownership builds your ability to take action and the result of seeing your choices come to fruition is deeply motivational. Knowing that you can make choices that make things happen feeds the ability to make more choices and direct your own life. Even when the choices don’t work out as you envisioned, ownership reinforces the motivational aspects of the internal locus of control that allow you to bounce back and try/choose again. Even a ship with sails, rudder and engine still encounters tides and wind. Owning the actions that lead to positive outcomes can be its own challenge for some folks - it’s ok to do things that go well! Owning your actions whether the outcome is positive or negative is still ownership and still building that internal locus of control.

The “practice” part means making a habit of ownership. It will be far easier to maintain your power and self-direction in the face of challenges if it’s something you do all the time. Skipping practice until you really really need it does not set you up for success (a friend recently said, “if it doesn’t work for my biceps why would it work for my brainceps?”).

So what does it look like to practice ownership? Here’s the basic script: “I own [action that you did].” “I own finishing writing an article.” “I own hitting snooze on my alarm 4 times.” “I own going for a bike ride twice this week.” “I own eating popcorn for dinner.” Keep it simple to get in the flow of it. It might feel weird to do - that’s ok.

Owning your actions is learning/reminding yourself that you are in control of your life - focus on that in your practice. Once a day? Twice a day? Every time you brush your teeth? Do what works for you. For maximum effectiveness of your ownership practice say it to a person, or, second best, write it down. The reminder of your ability to make choices is what matters and what will increase your motivation. Sharing taking ownership with another person builds trust and prepares you to be a more excellent leader in those moments when things did not go well.

If you want more info on applying ownership to your practice as a leader check out the books Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership. Both are by Jocko Willinik and Lief Babin (I also recorded podcasts pulling ideas to apply from these books that you can find here).

Ownership is great for your internal locus of control, motivation, and building trust. Try it. Make a habit of it. Lead with it. It will improve your life and leadership.

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