You act like you own the place

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Many moons ago, I was a college student on the campus of a very large university. For most of my undergraduate years, I felt as if I were an interloper – like a guest in someone else’s home – and my behavior reflected that belief. I took little initiative to create a greater role in the community for myself. My experience was small and my impact was small.  I wondered at the ease with which other people with whom I was familiar inserted themselves in this new environment, readily feeling as if it were their own. These same people also made an impact where they went. They joined clubs, they volunteered, they exuded a comfort and confidence that at the time I lacked. They acted like they owned the place!

Several decades into the future, the advice I wish that I could have given that young woman is the same I would give to an employee now: if you want to make an impact, if you want to feel engaged, connected, and valued, you need to step up and act like you own the place. This does not mean acting imperiously or arrogantly, but acting with courage and conviction, with trust in your competence and contributions, and with openness to learning and new experiences. How would do you job differently if you owned the business? How would you feel about your work if you were the one calling the shots? Based on my observations and experience, I think three important shifts would be made:

  • You would have an expanded sense of accountability. A sense of responsibility is directly linked to ownership. A CEO is like a man standing on a mountain top – he doesn’t just see the trees in front of him, he sees how the trees come together to create the forest. If you encourage yourself to look at the company like the owner does, you would concern yourself not just with the petty frustrations taking place on your piece of turf, but with a wider array of issues, from customer satisfaction, competitor actions, and employee morale to revenue, profits, and costs.
  • You would feel better about your work. With a broader perspective that encompasses the whole of the business, you would understand better how your role affects outcomes not just for yourself, but for your colleagues, the company, and even the broader community. This sense of being embedded in something larger fosters engagement. Perceiving these linkages invigorates us by framing our challenges at work meaningfully and giving us a sense of purpose.
  • People would feel differently about you. People who fit themselves naturally and confidently into their environment are compelling to others. They seem confident, charismatic, and competent. We are attracted to and respond positively to them. When you take ownership of where you are and what you’re doing, people feel inclined to look at where you are going and want to help. This creates a strong network – not just in the volume of connections you make, but the strength of those connections.

It’s not enough to “act” like you own the place for the purpose of impression management. To have a real impact, you need to take on real responsibility. When you act out of care and concern for employees, customers, and the future of the organization, it comes across to others. What can you as an individual do to gain greater ownership over your role and the organization? As a manager and leader, how can you cultivate an “owner mentality” in others?

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