Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Leadership is about ownership

I have been consulting with a small company with the hopes of assisting them in their quest to establish a more clear middle management structure. In this process, it is clear to me that the biggest gap I see is a clear delineation of ownership. So, I'm going to talk today about how establishing and communicating ownership to your management team provides them both the responsibility and the opportunity to effectively lead their areas and their people. Upon starting with this company, I asked the team to provide me a list of "roles and responsibilities." What I got was a list of actions or tasks that each team member participates in on a weekly, monthly, annualized basis. How is this different? Roles and responsibilities speak to ownership, whereas actions and tasks speak to activity. As activity doesn't always lead to results, it is important to delineate areas of ownership for leaders in your organization. Establishing ownership This is what the organizational chart is designed to do. Whether you follow it to the letter or use it as a guide, it is important to have a structure in place so as to define working boundaries for the team. It is important that the boundaries be based not on the team you have, but more generally on areas of responsibility. The skills and competencies of an individual in Marketing may be very different than that of Operations. Always put an individual in a position to succeed by lining up their strengths with the responsibilities required within their role. Communicating ownership Tell your middle management leaders that they are responsible for both operational and strategic functions for their given area. They need to be responsible for the tasks and activities that they inherit, but they also need to be open to exploring new ones that will provide for better optimization with the marketplace. This is where many organizations make their biggest mistakes. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Make sure you are communicating as a leader and not as a manager. These two skills are very different. Managing ownership Communicate outcomes and deadlines. Do not tell your middle management leaders HOW to do something. If they are in a leadership role, trust them to take full ownership of HOW and assess the results. So many leaders over-step their boundaries and give their mid-management staff too much direction. By doing so you are encouraging your people to operate from the box you put them in, rather than allowing them to create the box and to ultimately create the outcome that they believe is appropriate. You may not like the outcome first time. You may believe that they could have done a better job. However, as a leader, you need to regularly check-in, provide guidance and correction, question their activities and help them learn from their experience. As we have heard many times, the most effective route between two points is a straight line. However, the greatest learnings come from bouncing off the side rails. That's what you need to let your people do!