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The one characteristic that sets leaders apart

We’ve all read the business books that explain “formal” and “informal” leaders within organizations and that leaders exist within all levels of an organization. One characteristic I think that distinguishes a leader from the pack is that they view  their area of influence through an “ownership lens”.

A leader  takes “ownership” of an issue (idea, solution set, etc.) and will see it through to completion – whether good or bad. If you’ve been in business for any number of years you’ll know that it is a rare solution set that is all good or all bad. Very few solutions fit into a neat and tidy box because there are always trade offs. Sometimes a “good” solution set has some “bad” mixed in and vice-versa. There is no perfect. However, whatever the final solution, the leader who exhibits ownership never flinches from their responsibility to own the outcome.

Before you go all “Rambo” and start thinking you’re alone in the corporate wilderness – let me be clear – ownership doesn’t mean going it alone. In fact, it means quite the opposite. So relax, you don’t have to be Rambo after all. (Which is a relief because I don’t do well sleeping in tents. My husband got me to go camping, once. But that’s for another story.)

Leadership requires that you:

  • Work within your team and your sphere of influence for the good of the organization, not necessarily for yourself
  • Build consensus across the organization
  • Own the facts so you can explain the details without editorializing or sensationalism
  • See the issue to its conclusion
  • Become the advocate for solving the issue (decision, solution set, et al.)

A long time ago I had a boss who didn’t always take credit for our team’s solutions. I once asked her why. She said, “Don’t kid yourself, I own the outcome but it’s not necessary for me to always be in the spotlight. It’s far more important that the team is. It’s about doing the right things right because they are right.” Altruistic? Perhaps. But working for her changed my view of leaders forever.

Being a leader and embracing ownership means you won’t always get to credit for the answer. It means you are willing to not be the center of attention. It means you are willing to work behind the scenes content in the knowledge that the “right things are done rightly”. It means you own the solution even if your name doesn’t appear on it. But like my old boss knew, your fingerprints will be all over that solution.

Lots of people are good at talking about problems. How good are you at quietly stepping up and fixing them? Own what’s yours and then some. Do the right things right because they are right.

Be intentional