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Ownership and Stewardship

October 4, 2022

Most of us know that having an ownership mentality is a positive thing.

When someone thinks (and acts) like an owner, they take full responsibility for a job.  This person takes pride in the work they are doing, they understand that their role matters, and they take it seriously. If you’re a leader, it’s a dream to have people like this on your team! 

And we all know that an ownership approach is far better than the alternative: apathy.

No one wants to work with an apathetic individual. You know the type: the cashier at the fast food restaurant who is taking your order but seems like they might fall asleep before you reach the end of your sentence. They don’t care about you, and they certainly don’t care about getting your order correct. They take no pride in their work because their mind and heart are elsewhere.

So given the choice between ownership and apathy, ownership is far better. 

But ownership can be taken to the extreme. Have you ever witnessed someone who takes so much ownership of their role that it becomes a problem?

The ownership mentality becomes a possessive mentality.

Not only do they bristle at negative feedback, but they also stiff-arm anyone else who wants to help with the work they are doing. In owning their role, they firmly believe they are the best (and only) person for this particular job.

Imagine the woman who has volunteered at the food bank for decades. She has a clear vision for how the different items should be organized in the warehouse and she has personally spear-headed this project from the first day she volunteered. She has a tender heart for the people she is serving and loves being a part of something bigger than herself. 

However, as the organization has grown and more food is coming into the warehouse than ever before, her system is no longer working. Other volunteers have offered suggestions for how to reorganize the warehouse and maximize their space, but she won’t listen to them. She stubbornly believes her way is the only way. Her pride and ownership of her role is hindering the organization’s productivity. Ultimately, she’s hurting the people she is working so hard to serve.

Ownership can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. And if we’re being honest, each of us can be susceptible to this. 

The more invested you are in your work, in a project, in an organization, or even in a person, the more tempted you are to control it. The biggest problem with an ownership mentality is that it starts with good intentions, but if it is held too tightly, it goes too far. That’s why I’d like to propose a third option: stewardship.

Take a look at the diagram below.

Some may say that I’m splitting hairs over semantics, but I believe that words matter. 

On the spectrum, stewardship is not far from an ownership mentality. In fact, most of the time it will look and feel like ownership. However, a steward sees their given role as a gift to be used for the good of others. Good stewards are not possessive of the work they are given, but instead cultivate it well for a cause bigger than themselves.

And the best part, we don’t have to “act” like a steward, because we are stewards—each of us. From the owner to the manager to the entry-level employee, we each have a role to steward, and my hope is that we steward it well. 


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