Own Your Life and Career: 8 Steps to Achieving a Leader's Mindset

In my work as an executive coach to help others build vision, voice, and followership -- one of the biggest steps you can take for your career and life is to take the baby steps towards seeing yourself as "an owner."
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Over the last decade of coaching high potential and senior leaders -- I've most loved that magic moment when you see someone step into an "owner's mindset." It's not something you can exactly put your finger on or apply a check list against. But you know it when you see it.

In the words of folks I've had the pleasure of coaching or those I've interviewed:

"There was this moment I realized it wasn't about how much wood I chopped or trying to chop more wood. It was about thinking how to chop the wood differently, how to innovate how we did it, or if this was the wood we should even be chopping or should be chopping wood at all."

"It starts with saying to yourself; this is what I want to do. I am, in fact, committed to being a leader and I am going to do that regardless of title."

"There's always an inflection point when the person thinks and acts like an owner. You see them offering bigger counsel, bigger insights, and hold their ground with a respectful yet unapologetic stance. They don't wait for the formal status or title to do it."

As Tim Ferris describes in The Four Hour Work-Week -- it's a mindset that is "not limited to business owners" but rather a life approach available to all in terms of how we see our options and choices. Says Ferris, one is "to neither be boss nor employee, but the owner."

In my work as an executive coach to help others build vision, voice, and followership -- one of the biggest steps you can take for your career and life is to take the baby steps towards seeing yourself as "an owner:"

  1. Get clear on if this is what you want. Deciding to be an owner of your career and life can feel like scary territory. It means giving up being the victim and the blame game. It means depending less on asking others what they think and trusting ourselves. Ownership means owning our part, taking responsibility, and upholding our accountabilities. Not a bad trade off considering the gains in confidence, choice, and option value.

  • Recognize that you can demonstrate ownership at any time. Don't wait for permission or wait until you get the formal job title or formally have direct reports. Every project you're on gives opportunity to craft a vision, bring others together, and galvanize and energize those around us.
  • Are you informally leading your team's recruiting efforts? In charge of planning the next team dinner? Already in a management position but still don't feel like a peer to the executive set? Think about all that you are doing today and how to bring more ownership and courage to the job.
  • Add texture to the word "owner." Add words that most motivate or resonate with you. Trade up "doer," "worker bee," "executor," "project point person" and shift to more powerful words such as thought leader, pioneer, ambassador, artist, builder, hunter, connector. Tom Rath's book Strengths Finder 2.0 is a great place to find words and attributes that might fit. Ownership includes embracing your greatest strengths and purpose and building those into every day actions.

  • Connect to the big picture and expand your perspective. Consider things from a larger vantage point. Differentiate between personal opinion and gain for yourself or team versus considering decisions based on what's best for the overall organization and meeting the shared mission and objectives. Ask yourself if I were the partner or appointed lead, what call would I make?
  • Act in service of making an authentic and valued contribution. Notice the difference when you act or speak because you're worried about being evaluated by others or feeling insecure or competitive with others on the job. There is a difference between speaking up because you've been told to for your performance review and hoping to check off the box versus speaking up because you have conviction in your perspective or want to do what's right for the business.
  • Engage and be a role model in the face of challenge. When change and ambiguity are part of your daily organizational life it is even more important to engage, acknowledge, paint the way forward, and maintain realistic optimism. Being in dialogue is completely different from going passive on the sidelines or even worse, standing at the water cooler moaning with others, playing the "we versus them" game. Don't add fuel to the fire.
  • Connect and build networks with others. Beyond the "doing" of your job, recognize that building rapport and relationship are part of the job. Yes, ice-breakers matter, helping to put others at ease and not just getting down to the business at hand. Owners are clear that business is in large part about people. They have two-way conversations with others to seek to understand and to ensure being understood.
  • Understand ownership needs followership. Let go, trust others, and build an army behind you. This means planting a flag, being direct, holding hard lines when necessary but always treating others with appropriate respect, being open to having your mind changed, not expecting things to be buttoned up all the time, and understanding that loyalty is earned. Care about what others value and are motivated by.
  • In coaching, each of these mini-mind set shifts are usually worked in parallel with specific skill development. But through the years, I've found that those who embrace and have the courage to take on the owner's mindset in addition to increasing their skills capabilities have experienced the greatest transformation and gains.

    What would you do differently in your role today if you were to embrace an owner's mindset? Of the eight ideas above, which one would open up greater possibilities or growth?

    I'd love to hear about your own stories or thoughts on "owning it" -- in your life or career. Please write your suggestions here in the comments section, tweet me at @amyjensu or send an email to our firm, Isis Associates.

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