Everyday leadership: Followers need to feel sense of ownership in their job

A few months ago I was told a story about an interaction among two leaders and a follower. In order to make this story easier to follow, let’s call the follower, Jim, his boss, Sally, and Sally’s peer, Carl. It seems that Carl didn’t understand an aspect of Jim’s work that impacted Carl. Carl went to Sally and asked questions about why Jim did what he did. Both the leaders, Carl and Sally, were fairly new to their positions. Jim, on the other hand, had performed his job for over 10 years.

Instead of going to Jim and asking him about the work in question, Sally proceeded with numerous hours of research and study in order to figure it out for herself and explain it to Carl. When Jim found out what Sally had done, he felt disrespected and demoralized. He felt that his boss, Sally, for some reason, didn’t trust him enough to come to him and discuss the situation.

When I was director of the Institute of Education and Training for Business at Marietta College, I inadvertently experienced a similar situation. My job was to sell our services to organizations, create the materials to be used, and deliver the services. Another employee designed the proposals and supervised the design and production of communication training materials along with other tasks. Once a proposal was completed, she would give it to me to review. As time went on, I found the proposals were less and less developed. Finally, I decided to talk to her. I explained to her that I needed more complete proposals to review. She responded that I marked up the proposals to such an extent that it was a waste of her time to present complete reports to me.

I thought about her feedback for several days. What I realized was that I was taking ownership away from my assistant. Many of the comments that I made on her proposals were elements of my style of writing. My way of doing it was probably no more right than her way. Since this was in her realm of the business, I needed to back off unless I believed that my suggestion was important to implement.

Leaders can, without intending to do so, take away ownership from followers in a variety of ways. As we interact with employees, we need to be aware of the impact that we have on their work. Periodically, ask employees how they feel about their relationship with you and about how the work flows between the two of you. Keep the relationship open and respectful and you will learn how to help employees to succeed.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.