On Leadership and Ownership

Ownership

In a conversation the other day someone asked a question in a “by the way” fashion.

The question was this:

“If group approached the current executive management of this organisation, and offered you a management buyout, would you take it?”

Two Sides of Same Coin

What I found surprising is the people I interviewed fell into two distinct groups.

Group One

The first group consists of people who would grab this opportunity with everything they have, relish in the challenges that it would offer and would probably work them into a stupor to get the company performance to a level where it would yield the results that they believe it is capable of.

Group Two

The second group surprised me in their total lack of enthusiasm and risk adversity. This group would not even consider a MBO as an option and had a range of reasons why they would not exercise their option should it be offered.

This got me asking some questions about leadership, management, and ownership:

  • Why are we placed into leadership/management positions?
  • Does occupation of a leadership/management position require ownership of the environment from the occupant of that position?

On Leadership and Ownership

While evaluating different descriptions and discussions about leadership during research for this article, I could not find a single direct link between ownership and leadership.

The most accurate generic definition of leadership, in my view, is as follows:

Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. ~ Kevin Kruse, Forbes.com (Add in “getting results” – courtesy Brian Tracy).

Some other leadership quotes

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” ~ Arnold Glasow

To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!‘” ~ Lao-tsu

These definitions do not include a hint or suggestion towards ownership of the goal, product, results or the process. With this, it would seem that leadership, to some extent, excludes ownership.

More Questions than Answers

So do we confine ownership to the management realm? Research with regards to the link between ownership and management dates back to the beginning of management theory, and a significant volume of academic and commercial studies are available.

I was hoping to complete this post with some inspiring words – some advice – some hidden insight. I would however like to hear what your thoughts and emotions in this regard are. Please feel free to comment, share and discuss this.

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Anton van den Berg is a Project Professional at Aveng Limited
He serves Organisations to Advance to the Next Market Level
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Image Sources: media.bizj.us

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8 responses to “On Leadership and Ownership

  1. Interesting topic, ownership. I can recall a conversation with an executive who allowed the business to go in a direction that was against personal values, but justified the decision because it wasn’t actually their company. Even as an executive – it wasn’t their company? If the executives don’t feel ownership, where does that leave the rest of the organization?

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  2. I think ownership in a broad sense very much is a critical part of leadership. It is a good part of the leaders role to have a vision and communicate that vision with his followers with passion and enthusiasm and determination. None of that is possible without the leader “owning” the vision. It has to be yours, it has to be deeply felt, it has to be THE direction to go. Without that, people will soon spot the lack of commitment – the lack of ownership if you will – and will find another vision and another leader to follow.

    A few questions about the two groups you mentioned at the beginning. The narrative suggests conclusions based on your interpretation of responses. Was that based on actual blatant statements, such as “it’s too risky”? If, as a leader, I had a vision of what I wanted the organization to become, and if the MBO was not consistent with that, I would not even consider it. Not because of risk or fear, but because I want to realize my vision and not someone else’s. Therefore, I would not be very enthusiastic about the offer.

    The point is there can be lots of valid reasons why group B could be reticent other than fear of risk or a lack of enthusiasm. It could be positive instead of negative. It could simply be that they see something greater than the MBO would give them.

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  3. Hi Anton, You have raised an excellent question. Thanks for doing so.

    I will respond from 2 perspectives.

    First, Dr. Robert Terry includes in his definition the idea that leadership should include ‘profound responsibility’. This is a deep concept that charges leaders with ensuring that the overall direction is one with value. It also makes the top leader responsible for EVERY action of the company — even when he or she has had little to do with some specific act.

    Second, you should look into how organizations change when they transition from being run by the original founders/owners and begin to be run by ‘professional managers/leaders’. My personal anecdotal evidence is that very often there is a distinct shift in values — and — in related profound responsibility. For example, how often do ‘owners’ mortgage their homes to make payroll vs. how often would professional managers consider doing the same.

    Thoughts.

    Larry Walker

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  4. Thank you so much Debbie, Paul and Larry for the thought provoking responses.

    I tried to leave some of the implied repercussions of this revelation to the group, and I am so pleased that the quality of the people reading this blog is of the standard that it was picked up immediately.

    If one considers that “formal” organisational hierarchies consist of workers, managers and at the top – leaders this does the explain some of the lacklustre business responses we have seen.

    Larry, I can’t think of a better example than the one you used (how often do ‘owners’ mortgage their homes to make payroll vs. how often would professional managers consider doing the same).

    It brings the discussion into perspective with thoughts about responsibility for the welfare of the people in the organisation, the business culture, values, client perception…

    Hope you enjoy a fabulous day – and weekend..

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    • Hi Anton,
      My experience is in the computer field which for much of my career was dominated by IBM. While I was one of their competitors, I fully respected what they did, i.e. it was my opinion that they had earned their position of dominance by superior performance.

      During the 1970’s and ’80’s IBM stood alone as an example of business success. They were put on a pedestal as the prime example of business success — and their future seemed to have no limits. They were often described as a ‘national treasure’.

      Then when faced with pressure on their mainframe business, they chose to lay off people — for the first time in 70 years. Tom Watson, the founder, had respected his people, and in return, they performed for his company.

      Today, nobody talks about IBM as a national treasure. They are still big and still successful — but — they have lost that ‘special something’.

      3M here in Minnesota also went for decades without ever laying off people. I live where the bulk of 3M people live, and there was never a bad word heard about their company, and the company showed decades long growth and success.

      More recently, they too, laid off people for the first time. Now, sitting in a local restaurant or talking with neighbors, one often hears complaints about the company and its direction.

      For both these companies, the direction and practice of not laying off people was set by the original owners — and it worked extremely well for them. I am sure they had down times like everyone else, however, they never took the easy way out by blaming their people for the downturn. Rather they tightened their belts and looked to their people to find a way out.

      Somehow professional leaders/managers today seem quick to look to layoffs as the answer to short term issues. This does not strike me as having anything to do with ‘leadership’.

      Thoughts.

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  5. Larry, Thank you for this well thought through comment. You are supporting a viewpoint that I am trying to get across to leaders everywhere.

    Leadership is about people, people and people. If we as leaders commit to taking ownership of just one thing, it should be the welfare and future of those we lead.

    I would be surprised and astounded if anybody could show me a successful organisation or endeavour where people did not take centre stage or dominated the focus.

    I hope that you enjoy a spectacular week.

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    • Hi Anton,

      I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but Peter Drucker, a superb guru on management and leadership once said: The ONLY business of any business is developing its people. Larry

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  6. Hi Larry,

    Thank you – I agree with that wholeheartedly – I am also aware that an organisation has its own life source…

    Enjoy the day,
    Anton

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