He always knew what was best. I had relatively no brain, no value outside of my execution of dictated tasks. Sometimes I felt like he tried, he would ask a question, but my answer would be quickly cut off or brushed off. It felt like he thought, “Ok, now that I got those trivial niceties out of the way, let’s move on to stuff that matters.”
But it mattered to me. I wanted to be listened to. Heard. Known. Acknowledged that I’m a person and not just a machine. Soon, I became conditioned. Home was my place to be a person. Work was my place to work as a machine. I soon began to stuff my ideas for improvement. I was affirmed that they didn’t matter. I began denying my strengths so that I could fixate on completing dictated tasks. I did as I was told.
There were at least 10 reasons I left that job. Not being allowed to use my unique strengths in even a small form to help the company was a significant one of them. If I stayed, I know I would be pigeon-holed into some uncomfortable box of a job. I know this because very few people liked what they did. They did what they were told. Not what they were made to do.
I came into the job giving it my all. Faithful with the tasks I was given. Open about my goals and strengths from the first interview. I wanted to use my resources to add value to the company. I cared about it.
Then I was scrunched. Forcibly shaped. They tried to fit me into an unfeeling, unthinking machine. It worked for several months. Then one day, I noticed that the shape I had accepted wasn’t me.
I realized that these work problems I cared about weren’t really my problems. This wasn’t my business. This is someone else’s. Someone who doesn’t care about me as a person. Who doesn’t see me as unique. Who will be ready and willing to fire me if I don’t fit their goals for me as a machine.
This is the point where most employees have this realization, but then stay at their job for the money. It becomes a transactional commitment - I’ll do this work and you give me money for it.
With their mouths they say “Yes, boss.” In their hearts they are saying to themselves “This isn’t who you are, this is just what you do. This business isn’t mine, it’s just work. "
When you give employees no chance to invest their unique strengths in your business, you create a purely transactional agreement for work. At that point, you can bet there will be no sense of employee ownership.
One of the best ways to strip employees of ownership is to refuse employees opportunities to invest themselves (their strengths/their hearts/their creativity) in your business.
When you don’t give employees a chance to invest, it’s not surprising they feel no sense of ownership.
My boss was trying to do what he thought was best. But he was operating out of fear and stress. He didn’t allow me to use my strengths because he knew it was risky to try my ideas and he didn’t want to take a risk. He wanted me to operate as a predictable machine, not offer ideas as a unique person. Unfortunately, that meant losing my strengths as an asset, losing the potential for high employee ownership and ultimately losing me as an employee.
I know you want what is best for your business. I know that it is unbelievably stressful and hard to take your hands off of things that are yours (you should see how hard it is for me to let Mike cook). But I do believe it is the best way. You cultivate an unbelievable sense of ownership when you simply let someone invest themselves in your business.
One small way to start today -
Ask your employees for ways you can improve an aspect of your business that you know needs work. Then listen to them. Intently, fully listen. That’s it.