“The educator must believe in the potential power of his pupil, and he must employ all his art in seeking to bring his pupil to experience this power.”
Alfred Adler, Psychologist
Task ownership is when a person is accountable to recognize and adopt responsibility for all tasks related to living a productive, fulfilling life and engaging in meaningful work designed to contribute positive outcomes. In addition to life and work skills, tasks to be owned also include management of relationships, productivity, engagement, purpose, motivation, values and a vision for how to express social interest within the community.
Social interest is the use of one’s initiative to cause positive consequences to and for ourselves and others. Without social interest, we fall into the trap of chasing self-interest alone, which fails to meet universal needs of everyone for connection and contribution, two feelings required for high functioning and a positive experience of self-worth, individually and collectively. An obvious example of low social interest, is the all-too-common attractive, talented and accomplished celebrity who seeks self-fulfillment alone, then falls into despair at its empty promises and commits suicide in actuality or through an overdose of drugs used to dull pain.
Whose yard are you managing?
I happened upon an article today about all the activities a teen should be able to do alone by age thirteen and I was reminded of how often I see people owning tasks that belong to others, often while forgetting to check on their own. When either of these happen in a workplace, I ask, “Whose yard are you managing right now?” “What will you do to transfer responsibility from your yard to whoever’s yard it should be in?” “What needs are you avoiding in your own yard?” Learning how to create human systems that amp up personal responsibility and promote the transfer of it to those for whom it belongs, requires a transformation in thinking and behaving. People must overcome confusion about task ownership and commit to transfer responsibility as primary accountability and personal and professional development goals. This is not easy because most of us would prefer to dominate others, focus on them, and gain a sense of importance by helping them, rather than hand-off tasks to them and mind our own business; our own yard. When this happens, we inadvertently keep them (and us) small and stuck in a state of unrealized potential.
What does low task ownership cost?
How does task ownership impact the effectiveness and profitability of a business? When task ownership is not recognized as the highest priority, you weaken the performance of your team who would otherwise display excellence and superior service to one another and your customers. When it is missing from a group, community or family, there is an equal imbalance in both support and contribution that hurts everyone involved. When anyone pampers and spoils another person by neglecting capabilities within him or her, then everyone in the group becomes discouraged, unbalanced in contributions, self-centered, resentful and/or behaves entitled; often becoming a collective team of individuals who have little to offer each other and seem incapable of functioning well together.
What does high task ownership get you?
On the other hand, when a person’s power is acknowledged, celebrated and guided wisely; supported well within the group dynamics, and results in the right use of it in service, people become like plants with the perfect amounts of sunlight, plant food and water. Each one’s ability to own their tasks allows everyone to become exceptional and differentiates the entire group, the results, and the fulfillment experienced by all. It is only then that people expand into their greatest potential and everyone wins.
What culture is needed?
The ideal conditions and conversations needed to support task ownership are those that also promote a healthy sense of belonging and significance, where mutual respect and excellence become the norm. This culture is called a responsibility-based culture. In such, separations and weaknesses dissolve because people are now supported to manage what is theirs and this sets off a cycle of competency and self-confidence. Gone too are struggles that otherwise once led to disengagement, conflict, shame, loss of revenues, respect and more, where inferiority complex and shame spiraled out of control. Task ownership is THE antidote to mediocrity, co-dependency, self-centeredness, fear, and undue stress and failure.
S.L.A.M. (say less; ask more)
A sure sign of inadequate transfer of responsibility is when one person cares more about tasks belonging to another person; the one to whom those tasks actually belong. This shows up in coaxing, advising and rescuing people as if they are incapable and need you to move them along or motivate them. This is never our job. A pattern of assumed inadequacy arises in one, and then infects those nearby witnessing this dynamic in the group. This experience and conclusions drawn become a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy. Pampering, spoiling and enabling takes hold and creates further need for more of the same; rescue and exemption from task ownership that then results in over-burdening of those who feel compelled to take up the slack.
I offer a solution for what to do when you are tempted to coax, rescue and exempt people. It’s called SLAM: Say less, ask more. When you are committed to transferring responsibility to others, you are asking questions (“What will you do about that?”, “how do you plan to accomplish that?”), all while refraining from lectures, reminding, nagging and doing things for anyone capable of doing what they can for themselves. The following may help you with this:
What I rescue, I make weak
I won’t help people by saying things I’ve already said
When there is an under-performing person, there is always an over-performing authority figure (and it could be me!)
Task ownership is accountability and it is only possible when responsibilities are effectively transferred from one who has assumed them to another whose job it is to pick them up. This requires a strong leader (no matter what title, role or age) must believe in the goodness of others and remember that no matter what is showing up, others are generally capable beyond what they appear (most of the time). When it is recognized and remembered that most people are capable of becoming ready, willing and able to stretch into greater contributions, they quite often do so and then they feel worthy and a healthy sense of belonging and significance.
Task ownership requires a climate of psychological safety in which the exercise of responsibility is an adventure rather than a cause for performance anxiety. Many people have not felt safe to become increasingly skilled and to own their tasks because they have not been validated for their power and capability, nor guided in the appropriate use of it, nor given the best support for trial and error; making necessary and inevitable mistakes along the way. Rather, too often they are judged, shamed, punished, neglected, frightened and bulldozed when expressing initiative, from infancy through adolescence, and then into the workforce as an adult. As a result, many people do not recognize, nor know how to trust, use, and extend their power in service and skill attainment. Others don’t know how to give the right support for this.
Task ownership, and the conditions that promote it, comprise the basis of excellent customer service, collaborative teamwork, creativity, innovation, heuristic thinking and behaving (creating solutions on the fly) and evolvement and yet the need for it is just now becoming recognized and still only in a small amount of evolving businesses. When talent and potential in people is recognized, validated, revered, protected and guided, you are a leader that creates other leaders. People own their tasks, creating innovative solutions needed today in our complex world. Social interest and task ownership are what you most need in your workplace for success of every kind. They are also most needed in our institutions, communities, and homes. Ask me how I help people do this. I’d love to discuss this with you so that your work load is lightened by support from everyone on your team and your life and work bring you and everyone you touch – a life that’s loved.
Why People Hire Judy Ryan and LifeWork Systems
Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability in the transformation process. They know that conscientious employees grow your business and improve your reputation, giving you competitive advantages. We help organizations instill into every person a common language and toolset for how to participate in a responsibility-based Teal workplace. Visit our website at www.lifeworksystems.com, and click the link at the bottom to complete a culture assessment and schedule your first consult to review a report on your feedback, all at no cost. You can also contact Judy Ryan at 314.239.4727 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in Judy’s column on The Extraordinary Workplace, July 2020.