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The CEO of You: A Practical Guide To Acting Like An Owner

5 common sense steps anyone can use to multiply their impact and demonstrate ownership

Beehive soccer at its finest

Read time: 3 minutes

I can flashback to my lowest moment at Bridgewater like it was yesterday. 

The conference room was sunny and cold. I was sitting cross-legged on a hard bench. And my manager was fuming. 

I was juggling too much, and things were dropping. 

  • Next year's budget

  • Last year's performance reviews

  • Reshuffling the seats of 100+ employees

All things that people cared about deeply. And in an organization filled with people encouraged to "fight things that don't make sense to them," it was a recipe for overwhelm. 

It's no wonder I got shingles in the middle of it all. 

Fresh off a week of 16-hour days, I was exhausted. And losing ground. 

And I'll never forget the first thing he said when he walked in:

"We wouldn't be here if you acted more like an owner."

Total gut punch. 

That moment was the closest I came to quitting.

And it's only now, as an owner of my own business, that I can finally see:

He was right.

Effort wasn’t my issue. Effectiveness was my Achilles’ heel.

What Does It Mean To “Act Like An Owner?”

Every CEO I work with wants their team to act, think, or behave like owners. 

It's easy to say. But when I press, I uncover a different meaning of "ownership" from each leader. 

Which left me wondering: 

How could anyone meet this expectation? 

But there are clear themes. And connecting those themes to my experience building our business over the last few years revealed a no-regrets playbook. 

Want to act like an owner? Or do you want your team to move in this direction? 

Here are some practical ideas that anyone can implement.

1. They Harness the Power of Compounding

With every decision, we have a choice: Execute, Improve, or Compound. 

Owners know the right choice is to compound.

Make a bigger investment today to yield exponential returns later. 

Compounding can also work against you.

Owners know that they have to push back against inertia.

The addition of each person, process, or policy doesn't make things incrementally more complex. Complication grows exponentially. 

2. They Embrace The Power of 'No'

"No" just means "not yet." Today's No gives you data that directs you toward tomorrow's "Yes." 

Owners endure longer than employees.

"No" also means you know what matters. "No" is focus. "No" is discipline. "No" is ignoring countless good options to stay focused on the best one. 

Owners use "No" as a weapon of mass instruction.  

3. They're Proactive, Persistent & Prescient Problem Solvers

Owners don't get participation trophies. Their maximum effort is the baseline expectation.

So, what separates good employees from great owners? 

Their effectiveness in solving problems.

Owners combine 5 key factors to solve the most important problems:

  • Informed - They don't settle for their answer. They source the best one.

  • Collaborative - They never go it alone. They get people bought in early.

  • Speed - The gains from solving problems compound. Sooner = better.

  • Novel - They see solutions others miss. This can change the paradigm.

  • Scale - They solve the problem at the root to build atop it. 

4. They Chase Goals With Systems

Owners relentlessly pursue goals. 

They don't draw artificial boundaries to deflect responsibility. Every problem is theirs. They don't have to solve it but always ensure it gets solved

The pursuit of the goal is research. Owners want to understand the game deeply enough to build a system to win repeatedly. 

Teach soccer to 5-year-olds and they'll chase the goal, swarming the ball like a hive of bees. 

Manchester City has the exact same goal. But it's supported by a system. The field is divided into channels and lanes. Never more than two players in either. Pass people open. Optimize to get the ball into Zone 14. 

Same goal. Very different systems. 

5. They Know Every System Fails Without Feedback

We've talked about the art of giving feedback that's easy to metabolize before. Here's your feedback refresher

But they also know that they need feedback. And they don't leave it to chance. They manufacture it. 

  • Targeted - "We're aiming for X"

  • Specific - "We missed by Y"

  • Transparent - "Our approach was A, B, C."

  • Open - "What could we have done differently?"

  • Grateful - "I appreciate you."

  • Committed - "Here's what I will (or won't) do differently."

And this isn't confined to the expertise in-house. They cultivate peer groups, coaches, advisors, and experts. 

They don't focus on what they know. 

They worry about what they're missing.

What did I miss? What are practical ways you've seen your best employees truly act like owners? 

Add your best ideas to the comments from dozens of owners here:

Podcast Appearance

I dug into the archive for one of my favorite conversations this week.

Michael Girdley is someone I admired from afar on Twitter for years. He’s part of the reason I stepped out of my corporate life and into business ownership. I’ll admit to being a little starstruck kicking this one off.

We talked about how to...

  • Becoming a mid-career first-time entrepreneur

  • How to uncover “Alpha” in talent markets

  • Adapting to management roles

Find it on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or your favorite platform.

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