The Ownership Trap

Do you trust your team members or your board?

On the surface, that seems like an easy question to answer. But really think about it. When you are applying for a large grant, do you trust the application to your grant-writer or director of development or do you jump in and manage the process so you know it’s right? Do you provide your board members ready-made decisions they’re expected to rubber stamp or do you pull in executive members into the decision-making process?

Most of us struggle to let go even when we really need to. It’s easy to fall into the ownership trap because if I ultimately own the decision or action, I must be involved in every step to ensure it’s done right, right? After all, my name is on it. The reason it’s a trap is because while you’re in it, you’re unable to do the work you do best: Lead and inspire.

When you hire good, competent people either as staff or recruit top tier board members, you need to let them do their jobs. Good leadership doesn’t mean you’re totally hands off, but it means you trust that they’ll follow your guidance, come to you when they need help or have a question, and are capable to take the lead on an important project. Please check in, but don’t try to take over. They likely won’t do something the same way you will, and that is okay. You might even learn something new.

Good questions to ask yourself if you feel pulled into the ownership trap:

  • Am I afraid of something? What is it? (Be sure to name it and share this fear.)

  • Do I feel this person is able to do the task?

  • Am I mentoring/coaching or am I micro-managing? How would my actions feel like in their shoes?

  • What’s the worst thing that would happen if I wasn’t involved at all?

Naming our fears, questioning our motives, and practicing empathy is the best way to avoid the trap.

What do you do to avoid falling into the ownership trap?

Nerd tax


Ellen Peterson