The adidas Values Series
I am not much of a stage guy. And this is precisely why I want to share some thoughts on the topic of ownership. Sometimes, taking ownership gets mixed up with taking the stage. But I believe there are so many more facets to ownership. You don’t need to be the person in the spotlight to own a task or a project.
Ownership is one of the most important topics in business. It differentiates organizations that deliver tangible results from the ones that just drag on.
So, what are the important facets of ownership? As the leader of adidas’ Tech organization, everything we do – or own – is focused on doing the right thing for our company.
Enabling ownership to empower success
For me, ownership isn’t just about owning my work. It’s about being the one to pull together the right people from within – and beyond my area to drive progress and positive results, all the while respecting different roles and responsibilities.
It’s definitely not about stage time, it’s about producing outcome. My role sees me orchestrating ownership across a wider organization, while also taking full accountability of the end result.
You might own the end goal, but you need to accept that there are many ways to get there. Ideally, you are surrounded by people who are specialists in their respective areas. Embrace this expertise and give your teams the flexibility to do things in their own style. If you have people with the right skills and the right attitude, they will find a way of working that plays into their own strengths. Sharing and assigning ownership is important for your people – it gives them a sense of purpose and will steer your projects to greater heights.
But to make any of this happen, you have to adopt a certain mindset, you have to trust your teams and – most importantly of all – you must be able to delegate.
It’s not about control
Sometimes, people confuse ownership with the need to have control over all the parameters that are key for success. They’re not prepared to delegate and always want to be number one, but I firmly believe that you don’t always need to be number one to own.
At the beginning of my career, I sometimes struggled to delegate because I thought some tasks were too important. But the more responsibility you get in your career, the more you realize that you are not always the best person to deliver the solution.
By learning to coach and delegate to others, I have learned to take ownership of their future success, while they take ownership of the task at hand. This can be incredibly rewarding. I still remember the feeling when I coached somebody and the result that I got back on an important task I’d delegated was much better than I could have ever done myself. It was an experience from which we both grew.
The confidence to empower other people to own comes with experience, and you need to develop the right level of trust. Once you have seen it work, you start developing trust and then you build on this. Doing so has played a huge part in shaping my own personal leadership style.
How ownership links to leadership styles
I don’t think there is an easy way to cluster leadership styles. Leadership is – and should always be – contextual. And leadership is linked to personality – it is linked to people. So, if I were to call out certain attributes of my style, I would say that I’m democratic, coaching and supportive.
As a leader, I consider it important to take people with me and leverage the power of teams. And because this is core to my leadership style, I see ownership as a lever to empower my team.
Shaping your leadership style is a process. You watch other people lead, take the elements which resonate with you and inject your own features. This happens over time and changes with tenure, experience, and the specific role as well. Immersing yourself into different cultures widens your leadership toolbox and gives you new and different perspectives. For me, this taught me a valuable lesson about taking ownership.
I would say that my time in Asia further shaped my ability to adapt my style to an audience with a slightly different way of thinking and acting. For example, in the culture I grew up in, people usually think about the big picture first and then go into the details. I learned that in other cultures, it might be the other way around.
At first sight I thought people worried about small things and were preoccupied with the details I thought were irrelevant. However, as a leader in a cultural context different from the one I was used to, I understood that when people worried about small things, it signaled that for them, the bigger picture didn’t work.
I learned to listen to those signals and look at what’s behind. So, my experience in Asia enhanced my listening skills and showed me new and different ways to get to the bottom of things. By listening to my teams, I’m giving them ownership. I give them the space to proactively express their points of view and to help shape the way we operate.
But of course, as a leader you can’t always be democratic – sometimes you also need to exercise your authority or take an unpopular decision. Applying the right style in the right situation is probably the secret…
Ideally, you have an ownership mindset across all levels of the company. This can make organizations faster, more agile, and more focused on outcomes. I think through ownership, people will be happier, their contribution will be of greater quality, and as a result, companies could be more successful.
Three ways you can build a culture of ownership in your organization:
- It’s not all about me! – Orchestrate your team rather than take the limelight on every occasion
- Let it go! – Look at the strengths of your team and delegate
- Lead by example – Observe other teams and make sure they too display successful ownership