Leaders who have a strong sense of accountability can sometimes forget that they are not the ultimate authority, e.g., the business owner, the CEO, the General Manager. And when that happens such leaders can adopt an ownership mentality. But confusing accountability and ownership is not a good thing.

I hate when that happens.

I have been blessed to work with bosses who trusted me to operate within expansive boundaries. One such boss traveled a lot. While he was away, I ran the operations side of the business without direct oversight; not that it was overly complex but I made a lot of final decisions on my own.

One situation that was complex involved a sensitive personnel matter. The organization struggled with mix feelings for a loyal and talented colleague who had turned right when the rest of the organization had turned left.

I designed a course of action and convinced my boss to agree to it. It respected all the players involved while advancing the best interests of the organization. When this course of action proved difficult to implement my boss pulled the plug after a few weeks.

My initial reaction was shock (“what?!!!), then anger (“what the what?!!!) and then despair (“what are you doing to me?”).

I had assumed ownership. Worse, I viewed my boss as interfering with my ownership. I had an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and worse still, I was failing to carry out a fundamental aspect of my job, supporting my boss.

Thank God, it did not take long for me to come to my senses (“What the hell am I thinking?!”).

Of course, this was my boss’ decision to make! As the CEO he, not me, was the owner of this decision. And as his direct report, I was accountable for making sure his decision was implemented the best way possible.

I have learned that the best way to avoid stepping over the boundary between accountability and ownership is to stay connected to my boss. Even if he or she trusts me to handle matters without a lot of oversight, keeping him or her in the loop reminds me of who has ultimate accountability.

If you’re willing to share, please let me know if you have ever confused accountability with ownership. Send me a note via the contact form. I will send you an excerpt from my book, Transforming: The Power of Leading from Identity, as a thank you.