When an ownership mentality hurts you

For some, ownership is a “free pass” that allows them to not be accountable to anyone and therefore to not have to perform.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that a company’s owner should be the most responsible for performing their role and driving results? (Photo: Shutterstock)

We always talk about how we want our employees to approach their jobs with an “ownership mentality.” It’s pretty obvious why. The logic goes, if they think like an owner, they will perform their job more effectively, right? Well, not so fast. It all depends on what kind of owner we’re talking about.

Kevin Trokey is founding partner and coach at St. Louis-based Q4intelligence.

I was having a conversation with a good friend whose agency recently sold to a large, national broker. When I asked how it was going, I was a little taken back by his response.

It wasn’t so much that I was surprised that things were going well, but I was surprised by what he described as going well. He said that he couldn’t remember a time when the sales team was so engaged and motivated, and that they were now setting the tone for the whole agency.

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He pointed out that the sales team was also the previous ownership team and, before the sale, had gotten to the point that they used their ownership as a “free pass” to not be accountable to anyone and therefore to not have to perform. However, after the sale to an organization with a real sales culture, they found themselves the most accountable of all.

Leadership accountability

If you have been reading this column for any length of time, you have heard me talk about the responsibilities that come with leadership. And shouldn’t the owner(s) of any organization be right there with the highest level of leadership? And doesn’t it also stand to reason that they should also be the most responsible for performing their role and driving results?

Sadly, the pre-sale situation my friend described is all too common in small, privately held companies. There is no doubt in a publicly traded company that the leaders would be the most accountable and under the greatest amount of scrutiny. Why shouldn’t it be the same in our agencies?

Behavior sets the example

I think it should, but I also see why it isn’t. The producer/owner is happy with his/her level of income, rationalizes that past efforts continue to drive revenue, and then stops producing. I couldn’t disagree with this position more! They may have taken care of themselves, and they may not have Wall Street breathing down their necks, but there is an entire organization depending on their leadership, engagement and motivation. When this doesn’t exist, a whole host of problems occur:

However, when the owners/leaders are engaged and motivated, there is no limit to what can happen. So, before you ask your team to “behave like an owner,” be sure to evaluate what kind of ownership example is being set. If the example is one of a “servant owner” who makes himself or herself the most accountable, then I applaud the expectation. However, if the example is one of an “entitled owner,” I would caution you to be careful what you ask for. You will most likely get it.

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