We are all familiar with the adage “actions speak louder than words,” and certainly leading by example makes a tremendous difference, but the words we use do matter.

A common goal of leaders that go through our leadership programs is to act as an owner and create a culture of ownership within their firms. To be a true owner means you do the thinking, planning, communicating, enlisting the ownership of others, and being responsible for the outcomes.  

Firms filled with owners have the ability to truly count on their team members, in part, because expectations are crystal clear. In this culture, talent understand what it means when they are empowered to own  a client, project, or initiative. It eliminates the confusion over who is doing what and feelings of I thought you were doing that or “I’m not sure if I’m empowered to take this action.”

The greatest strategies and techniques can be sabotaged by the words used during the delegation process. These phrases create ambiguity around the request. In the rest of this post, we’ll explore phrases to avoid using when assigning owners and transferring responsibility.

“Help me with..,”

The very definition of help is to give assistance or support. When asking for help, you are not asking the other person to be responsible or take the lead. Instead, you sound like you are the owner and are asking them to give only the time and resources they can spare. Helpers are reactive and short-term. Owners are proactive and stay in the game.

“Do what you can” or “Take it as far as you can”

Establishes similar expectations to asking for help. You are not empowering them to problem solve, enlist the participation of others, and stick with the assignment until it is complete. Instead, you are implying they do what is possible with the time, knowledge, and resources they feel they have and then pass it along to someone else which is not owner-like behavior.

“Do your best”

This phrase implies you will take any level of quality or completion. It gives the impression that you want to see what they are capable of. When delegating and assigning ownership, you may give stretch assignments and encourage team members to challenge themselves, but you want them to take responsibility for the quality of their outcomes and act as the owner of the project, or portion of it.

“Cover for me,” “Step in,” or “Fill in”

These phrases make it unclear as to what the person’s boundaries are. Perhaps you are going on vacation and you ask someone to “fill in” for you while you are out. Does that mean they attend meetings on your behalf? Are they making decisions as it relates to issues that need solving? Are they approving requests? To what extent are they filling in for you? Some people will be more conservative in their approach, perhaps too much so and you return to a mountain of follow-up to do, where others may overstep and make decisions you did not intend.

In place of each of these phrases, use the ConvergenceCoaching® commit with clarity framework. Be specific about what you are asking them to do and by when. Let them know they are the owner, and what that means. Share with them the resources available to them, especially on projects that stretch them in new ways. Establish a return and report frequency so you have piece of mind on how project is going, and they have a confirmed time to get feedback on their progress. And, document these details in a recap so everyone involved has the same expectations.

Stop using language that undermines your efforts to develop ownership in others, build confidence in your team, and create capacity by using these phrases. Be specific and talk straight to see real ownership results!

All the best,