Inspiring An Ownership Mindset

As a leader, you are responsible for making sure your team has the necessary skills to perform well in their roles. Training likely revolves around concrete and definable abilities that link directly back to the expectations of acceptable performance in the role. Concrete training is valuable, but training should not stop there. What can be done to impact not only an employee’s skill set, but their mindset as well?

Organizations and teams that inspire an ownership mindset, where ideas are encouraged and initiative is commended, are more successful than those that don’t. However, you shouldn’t expect behavior that you haven’t asked for. How do you train a mindset of entrepreneurial thinking and individual responsibility?

Learning to Think
One of the best ways to help your employees assume an ownership mindset is to help them understand your own mindset – what you think about, how you prioritize, how you make business decisions and how you solve problems. You are their best teacher, but you must be transparent about how you operate.

Remember to provide access to pertinent information. Share historical data and context, past cases of failures and successes, and even confidential information if it will create a more insightful thought process and outcome. It is impossible to withhold relevant information and still expect profound thinking and deep insight.

It is certainly desireable for employees to be able to look around, see what needs doing, and proactively step into those tasks. If they do not, it might not be because they can’t or don’t want to. It may be because you have not made clear to them that this is what you want and expect on a regular basis.

Ask more questions and give fewer answers; the best leaders ask more questions than they answer. Thinking is a developmental activity, and tough questions stimulate thought. Instead of immediately responding to a problem or issue voiced by an employee, start with:

  • You sound frustrated; what do you think could be done to address this issue?
  • I certainly understand that this is a problem; what do you think could be done to solve it?
  • What are some approaches we might not have thought of yet?
  • What additional information do you think you need in order to formulate an accurate opinion or to recommend a solution?
  • In hindsight, is there anything that could or should have been done differently to avoid this manifesting into a problem?

Foster the Right Environment
If you ask for feedback or opinions, create an environment in which employees are comfortable sharing their feedback and opinions. Defensiveness by a leader is the genesis of apprehension and insecurity from employees. Even if you do not agree with their thought process, ask questions to lead them to a more appropriate conclusion – one that they arrive at by themselves.

Similarly, employees can’t be expected to take risks if failure isn’t tolerated. Good employees make mistakes, and great leaders allow them to. Give people the opportunity to learn from mistakes, own them, fix them, and then put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated. Give employees room to fail – within reason – and they will step up more readily.

Be comfortable delegating. Fear of losing control is what stops most people from delegating; as a leader, you will ultimately be held accountable for failure. It can be intimidating to hand over the keys to the car if you don’t fully trust the person driving.

Hire Employees with Proactive Track Records
Hiring proactively-minded associates can be difficult. Instead of relying on job titles or skill sets, look for signs of proactive behaviors and accomplishments. In the interview, be aware of language choice. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey claims that “our language is a very clear indicator of the degree to which we see ourselves as proactive people. The language of reactive people absolves them of responsibility…whereas the language of proactive people embraces responsibility.”

Reactive Language

  • He/she told me I could/couldn’t…They wouldn’t allow me to…If I had the time, I could have…

Proactive Language

  • I looked for alternatives…I chose to…I prefer to…I took the time to…


Proactive language demonstrates an ability to choose and take action, while reactive language tends to be more focused on removing responsibility. Keeping this perspective in mind when hiring is key to developing a team inspired by an ownership mindset.

Finding People Who Make a Difference®
For more than 50 years, Sanford Rose Associates® has been committed to “Finding people who make a difference®” for its clients. To learn more about how we can coach you to inspire an ownership mindset with your current team while hiring like-minded individuals in the future, please reach out to your Sanford Rose Associates® executive search consultant today.
—Karen Schmidt

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