Too much ownership?

It is often said that ownership matters. Ownership is an important trait of responsible and committed human beings.

For starters, let’s study the inverse of ownership. We become frustrated when other people fail to exhibit the proper amount of ownership. When they don’t follow through on their word, or go the extra mile, we furrow our eyebrows at them. People who exhibit minimal ownership are perceived as lazy; lack of ownership is a non-desirable trait.

That’s right, people. We all need to do more, own more, and take more responsibility! Clearly, people who don’t care enough to be committed will never amount to anything great! They won’t become the rising star of a firm or company.

That might be generally true. But when does too much ownership become a bad thing?

I recently encountered this when transitioning my work responsibilities over to another team member. I had just changed teams and needed to off-load my work to the new owner. The new owner needed to move forward and start driving the scope I previously held. But in the spirit of ownership, I held on. I wanted to stay looped into the existing threads of communication so that I could be the guy who stepped in with helpful context. I participated in all the conversations to give my input. I wanted to put my past two years of knowledge to good use.

The road to hell is often paved with good intentions. When I mentioned my behavior to my mentor, he offered me a fresh perspective. He advised me that in staying involved and assuming my help was needed, I was did-empowering the new owner from making the critical decisions. In other words, it was good for the short term and bad for the long term. I might have felt good about it, but I wasn’t ultimately helping.

At the very least, I should have put the ball in the new owner’s court. One simple email or conversation would have done the trick. Hey, new owner – I fully recognize that you’re driving things going forward. I’ll defer to you here and get out of your way. Just let me know if you ever need me to step back in and help you out.

One may argue that in this situation, it becomes less a question of too much ownership and more about ambiguity of ownership. After all, who is the owner here? Is there a transition grace period for the handover? These are important questions to ask.

My point, however, stands. General platitudes of wisdom – you need to show ownership – are useful only in the right context. And there is an exception to every rule. Ironically, the last sentence might be an ill-advised rule onto itself! All we can do in life is to be self-aware and look for the outliers. And reflect constantly.



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