Change is the new normal.

Unfortunately, few businesses have truly adjusted to this reality.

For decades, businesses have leveraged a top-down leadership approach to guide their company. It may give you more control over how your business is run…but ultimately, it slowly kills businesses. I don’t mean to be dramatic, it’s just true.

Here’s why.

Why Top-Down Leadership Doesn’t Work Anymore

In a top-down leadership structure, all decisions have to come from the top. It may sound great in theory, but it means you’ll always be slow to respond to changing circumstances at the ground level.

That’s just no longer feasible in today’s business world.

Markets change on a dime, new products and services are always entering the market. Disruption is the new status quo! Look at what happened at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer preferences, habits and so forth changed virtually overnight.

If teams have to wait around for leaders input on every decision, you’ll be forever behind the 8-ball. Even worse, it can lead to misinformed decisions that don’t take into account what lower-level team members are seeing and experiencing.

In a world where businesses have to change or die, this type of leadership structure is a serious liability.

In today’s fast-paced market, leaders need teams that don’t just execute on a list of responsibilities, but take ownership of their work, think on their feet, and do whatever it takes to drive results.

The Way We Lead Teams Matters

There’s a better alternative here. The most adaptable teams are led by leaders who encourage their teams to take ownership of their work. They own their results and process, taking full responsibility for it.

Most leaders will tell you they want their teams to do the same. But the way we lead teams matter.

Your first instinct may be to blame team members for not taking initiative or not owning their work. But look at what they have been taught.

Team members grow accustomed to top-down management very quickly. What does it teach our teams when they’re reprimanded for “making the wrong decisions,” or doing something the leader disagrees with?

They learn not to think for themselves, and not to act decisively when circumstances change. They learn that the best thing to do is to wait for their leader to provide guidance.

When circumstances change, they don’t change their process for better results. In the best case scenario, they report the changing circumstances and await further orders – oftentimes delaying action until it’s too late.

So how do we encourage teams to take ownership? Well, first we have to understand what we can and can’t make our teams do in regards to ownership…

You Can’t Assign Ownership

You can assign responsibilities. You can assign accountability.

But ownership is a step beyond either of these things. Real ownership means a team member takes initiative and goes BEYOND their assigned responsibilities, doing whatever needs to be done to deliver the right results.

They do tasks that no one asked them to do in order to achieve success.

You simply cannot assign someone to do that. They have to choose to do it on their own.

The good news is that as a leader there are steps you can take to inspire your teams to choose ownership. It’s about creating the right environment.

How Can Leaders Create an Environment of Ownership?

One of the most important things you can do to create the right environment here is to let people make mistakes.

Nobody likes to see their team make mistakes. But it’s a vital part of helping your team grow, and it’s necessary if you want your teams to own their work.

If people are afraid to make mistakes, they’ll always come to you for guidance rather than making their own decisions. That leads right back to top-down leadership and all the associated challenges.

There’s nothing wrong with a team member asking for advice, but they should feel empowered to make their own decisions. Let team members know it’s okay to make mistakes, and that the important part is the team asks themselves what went wrong and makes a plan to do better next time.

Another key lesson here is coaching team members to create their own solutions. Most leaders solve too many problems for their teams! In reality, you need to be the polar opposite of a micromanager.

When people create their own solutions, they grow and become better problem-solvers. They also get more invested in the work. If you always provide a solution, they get used to someone else solving all their challenges.

Let your team know it’s always ok to come to you for guidance but be careful not to solve their challenge right away. The best approach here is to ask your team member open-ended questions. That means a questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, ask what your team has tried so far, what has historically worked or not worked, and what might be good next steps.

The key is to lead your team to their own solutions and get them thinking for themselves.

Ownership Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Encouraging your team to take ownership won’t lead to results overnight. At times, you’ll wonder whether you’re getting the right return on investment for your time and effort. But if you are serious about building a resilient team that can adapt to change, there’s no better investment.

When you have a team that can think on their feet and chooses to own their work, there’s no change or disruption you can’t tackle head on – and leverage for success!