Cultivating Ownership – ‘Leadership is the psychology of ownership’

The ability to motivate others to take ownership of their jobs is a much sought after leadership attribute! To a great extent the purpose of most training programs and day to day management priorities is to motivate others to take ownership of their jobs.

Over the years we at Leadership Platform have had leadership conversations with probably more organisational and thought leaders than anybody else. If there is one passionate requirement these leaders would love their staff to acquire, it is that of ownership..

Let’s briefly look at some of the key factors that contribute to cultivating a spirit of ownership:

To possess or take ownership is a basic driving force of humankind.

The above statement may seem a bit odd to those of us who battle to understand why so many of the people we are involved with seem to have no interest whatsoever in taking possession of the requirements of their job. That concern is understandable. Yet the truth is that everybody has a sense or instinct to possess and to belong. The instinct to possess is a basic attribute of human behaviour and it helps us immensely to come to terms with this reality. The question is not: Do all people have a passion to take ownership? But it should really be: How do we channel their instinct to possess into taking ownership of their jobs? These are very different questions!

The great leader does not doubt that all people are driven by the instinct to possess and to belong. Such leaders constantly ask themselves; What do these people want to possess and how do I channel their instinct to possess in such a way that they want to possess the values and objectives of our organisation?

As we come to terms with the principle that possession is a basic driving force or instinct in all people, we start looking at people in a different light.

Even the laziest of the staff has a sense of possession. It may well be the ‘possession’ of a negative attitude towards his colleagues and job. It is generally accepted amongst social scientists and psychologists that a person’s self image consists of perceptions and experiences that are very often based on a negative sense of values. All people cling to their self image. They will not really change until empowered to take possession (ownership) of higher and nobler values.

Taking possession is a mental as well as emotional process

One of the things that puzzled me a great deal as a young and inexperienced manager was the inability of planning and training sessions to bring about lasting attitudinal change. Perhaps you have experienced this as well. The tone in such meetings is often positive and decisions are taken that seem to indicate a higher level of unity and passion for excellence. Yet so often those feelings seem to subsequently slide to the back burner and many of us default to our usual mode of operation.

We learnt through research that the missing factor was very often a lack of emotional involvement in the process of arriving at mutually acceptable objectives. Women may instinctively understand the principle better than many men. One supposes that ‘men are from Mars and women from Venice’ makes some sense! The point is that all of us (both men and women) need to understand that taking possession of ideas and concepts cannot effectively lead to changing behaviour until it is accompanied by a process that addresses the need for emotional involvement as well.

In practical terms it means that whatever process we may use to bring about behavioural change, it should include identifying and respecting the emotional components of both negative as well as positive perceptions. This is a basic principle involved in the process of taking ownership or possession of ‘new’ ideas or concepts.

We must bear in mind that the self image of all participants will determine the emotional reaction to the issues being raised. Participants may or may not be willing to raise their deepest emotional reactions to the ideas involved. Often they may not even realise what their deepest feelings really are and they may respond in a ‘politically correct’ manner. This could be for a variety of reasons.

Can people change entrenched behavioural patterns?

The honest answer to the above question is Yes! with a secondary NO.

Why NO in some cases? On occasion negative behavioural patterns are so strongly established that people simply do not want to change or they feel they cannot change. In some instances psychological counselling may be required, sometimes over an extended period of time.

Having said that, it is important to note that the people who work in environments that are reached by this article are in general almost always receptive to attitudinal change. This often has to do with background and educational opportunities.

We in Leadership Platform have experienced countless situations where people have experienced attitudinal changes of behaviour, sometimes dramatically so. Exterior factors can have a profound impact on the ability and inclination of people to change their behaviour to the pursuit of excellence. Let’s look at some of these ‘exterior’ factors.

A positive organisational culture 

The organisational culture has an immense influence on staff at all levels. When a solid set of organisational values are well established in the organisation, the chances of effecting attitudinal change for the better increases exponentially. Trainer/manager/coach as well as staff members are impacted positively if the culture is one of excellence.

A note of warning. We use the expression ‘the CONC factor’ in Leadership Platform terminology. By this we mean ‘the cost of non-compliance’ (CONC). When certain elements in the organisation are committed to bring about a negative climate around them, management should take note and take action. The cost of non-compliance with a positive climate in the organisation can be a very expensive one.

A behavioural change culture

By the term ‘behavioural change culture’ we mean that the organisation should be committed to a top class culture of disciplined and trained leaders and models that are equipped to deal with all kinds of behavioural change challenges. The culture should include coaching of senior management as well as training staff in models and know-how how to address behavioural change situations.

Organisational excellence is mostly the result of skills in transferring ownership of positive values to others.


A key element required by a leader who is committed to building an ownership mindset in others around him or her, is the grounded belief that all people have an instinctive need to possess and to belong. The inborn ability to take responsible ownership is already there in probably the vast proportion of staff. Based on this belief leaders are equipped to build an ownership mindset in others. A lack of this belief makes it very difficult if not impossible for a leader to inspire others to assume ownership of their jobs.

Authentic leaders believe in constantly changing their own behaviour and are thus inclined to believe others can and do change as well.

The Old Man…

LP Leadership Platform – Multiplying Leaders. Moving Society.


Do you recognise some areas in yourself as a leader or areas in your team that need improvement?

Contact Adriaan Groenewald for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside you as a leader and your organisation.

Adriaan Groenewald is an Authentic Leadership Activist


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