Leadership through Ownership

How leading through ownership and accountability creates stronger teams

By: Larissa Severn, Senior Digital Project Manager

I like to think of myself as a laid-back, roll-with-the-punches kind of person, but I’m also a person who strives for perfection. From grade school through my professional career, it’s tough to look back at those less-than-perfect grades, projects, and moments in time. It’s even harder to look back and evaluate things that straight up went wrong. Failures. And it can be downright painful to look inside rather than out – to truly take ownership of my role in things that went wrong. That’s how I know that ownership and accountability are the most important lessons to be learned from mistakes – because they are the hardest lessons to swallow.

As a Digital Project Manager (DPM), I oversee teams of people working toward a common goal – a project, a product, a deadline and budget. In the digital world, no project is ever the same. Technology is constantly changing and no matter how strong your processes, there has to be a degree of flexibility and risk-taking. It’s my job to manage the work of a team who doesn’t report to me, and to encourage and motivate that team to achieve our common goals. I’ve learned that you have to be as good of a listener as you are a spokesperson – you have to have all the details planned and at the same time be prepared to change that plan at any moment. And when something doesn’t go as planned – whether it be an unforeseen obstacle or an overlooked one – someone has to own up and solve it. Someone has to take accountability.

It was on my vacation with my family this summer that this concept really struck me. I’m often subjected to my husband’s love of history and military podcasts – this time, he introduced me to Jocko Willink’s “Jocko Podcast” and subsequently his TEDTalk, “Extreme Ownership.” If you have 10 minutes, give it a watch. While his experience deals with the depths of war as opposed to business, I could not get his words out of my head. At Orases, two of our core values are “integrity all the time” and “strive for constant improvement.” Taking “extreme ownership” truly exemplifies those values, and I felt inspired to apply that leadership lesson to my life and career.

It’s always easier to look outward – maybe the scope of a project was misinterpreted, maybe there was a delay outside of the team’s control, maybe a feature was underestimated – but at the end of the day, as the DPM, I am the owner of that problem. Don’t use blame as a crutch to pass on the burden. It’s when we start pointing fingers that teams fall apart. But I’ve found that when you accept responsibility, your team follows that lead. It opens the door for everyone to feel safe in their own self reflection and growth.

So take ownership of your projects – not when they end up on time and on budget – give that credit to your team. They deserve it. Take the fall when things get messy. Learn to accept criticism. Learn how to adapt. Learn how to get better. “Get control of your ego,” as Jocko says. “Don’t hide your delicate pride from the truth.” Watch how your team reacts to accountability versus blame. It is only in true ownership of our mistakes that we can grow as leaders.