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Ownership isn’t Leadership. Learn the Difference

Just because you pay the bills, doesn’t mean people actually look up to you

What if I told you that being the owner of your company doesn’t have anything to do with being a leader?

Sure, the two easily go hand-in-hand. But if you think those words are synonymous, then you should continue reading the rest of this article. I’ve learned over time that the best leaders are the ones that can easily find distinction between the two. Owner is simply a title or position. Being a leader, on the other hand, is a choice you can make every single day.

I’ve owned my own business for most of my life, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made a ton of mistakes — and have even tricked myself into thinking I was a good leader, when in reality I wasn’t leading anyone or anything.

For many years, I would roll up to the office every morning and walk right past all the young, ambitious, bright-eyed employees without making any sort of eye-contact. I was much more interested in how I was about to tackle a meeting with a client later that day, or just generally groggy from not having yet had my cup of coffee.

In hindsight, I realize that I may have owned the company from the comfort of my desk in the back room, but I was far from being a good leader.

To be clear, I was completely unaware and unintentionally falling into the illness of “being the business” rather than leading the business, and subsequently fell into the trap of managing the business.

I like to call this working “in” the business rather than working “on” the business.

It’s easy to start or own a business.

Sure, the time requirements are fairly substantial — filing paperwork, adhering to a list of business activities, submitting and paying taxes, performing sales and marketing activities, and of course, doing the actual work.

The hard part, however, is turning yourself from an owner into an actual leader that empowers the people around you to take ownership with and for you. And the truth is, not everyone has the skills or temperament to be a both a leader and an owner.

The textbooks will tell you that your core responsibility as the business owner is “to drive the growth of the business through new sales from a directed and driven effort to create awareness for your company and its differentiation.”

While this, as a formal definition, is true, it’s really just a bunch of mental masturbation that doesn’t mean a thing if you lack the ability to inspire, motivate, and lead others.

Leaders create value. Not through selling or adding new clients, but by enabling others to work more efficiently.

Here are seven characteristics of great leaders, not just owners:

  1. Leaders lead, rather than rule: Real leaders never have to remind people that they’re the owner or “the boss.” If you have to say “I pay your salary,” or “You have to do what I say,” that’s not leadership.
  2. Leaders don’t tell you what to do — they show you how it’s done: Leaders set the example instead of setting the rules.
  3. Leaders pull the thumb instead of pointing the figure: It’s easy to blame people for mistakes, but rare to take responsibility for the team. It’s called extreme ownership.
  4. Leaders don’t micromanage: You have to let your team make mistakes. You never learned from a well written list of to-dos. Leaders give people the space to learn from their own failures, and are there to help them learn why and how it happened.
  5. Leaders shine the light on their team, not themselves: Leadership isn’t about individual accomplishments. They don’t feel the need to take credit or ask for a pat on the back. They care more about the influence they have on the “team” around them.
  6. Leaders make everyone around them better: Leaders seek out opportunities to help their talented players build confidence. Even when their people fall short, they know it takes time, trial, and error before they finally flourish. In short, leaders see what others can’t because they look don’t look for instant results. What they look for is intention and work ethic, habits and the ability to listen. And then they push those people to a level they couldn’t envision on their own — and reap the rewards as a result.
  7. Leaders make time for everyone: The best leaders are always listening and empowering their people. They take the time to coach and train, knowing neglect only reinforces bad habits, stagnation, and disengagement.

Thanks for reading! :) If you enjoyed it, hit that heart button below. Would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

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Ron Gibori

Ron Gibori Chief Executive Officer @sixlabs | Founding Partner @ideabooth | Inc. Columnist | I rally the misfits to create the best stuff.