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First step toward leadership: ownership

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

One day at about 2 p.m., David Silverman had an “Aha!” moment.

He and his two-person staff hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and a staffer was getting restless. For the first time, Silverman didn’t care about lunch. He hadn’t even had breakfast, but food was far from his mind.

He was focused on their project, which also for the first time felt like his project.

Silverman had discovered a sense of ownership, which he calls his “lunch test,” meaning that it’s at mealtimes where priorities and responsibilities become manifest.

At every other job he’d held—even in positions of responsibility—the most important part of Silverman’s day had been lunch. What he would eat, where he would get it and how good it would be.

Now the roles were reversed. Silverman hadn’t even eaten breakfast and he didn’t care. The project was his responsibility. Lunch could wait.

For the first time, Silverman felt like an executive. In truth, however, he had taken only the first step toward leadership: ownership.

That’s why he says the “Aha!” is followed by “Oh.” The next steps are responsibility and accountability. Responsibility for the project and your team, and accountability for the results. Even when a member of your team screws up, it’s your name on the door.

The Army has some good shorthand for this concept. The leader’s job is to plan, prepare and sacrifice, summed up in the slogan, “Mission first, soldiers always.” The troops eat first.

Once Silverman masters these steps and manages to bring along his team, he’ll have become not only an executive but a leader.

— Adapted from “The Moment I Finally Felt Like an Executive,” David Silverman, Harvard Business Publishing.

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