An oft-neglected factor in project success is ownership.\u00a0 That amorphous and ethereal quality that separates those who care deeply from those who are following orders.\u00a0 As the saying goes, with any bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. \u00a0When a team takes ownership of its product, magic happens.\u00a0 Urgency and energy increase, collaboration occurs, and pride skyrockets.\u00a0 So how can leaders create environments where ownership \u2013 true ownership and not simply legal or material ownership \u2013 takes root?\nRecently, I needed some outdoor piping re-plumbed, and I had a malfunctioning ceiling fan switch.\u00a0 Using my self-bestowed scheduling genius, I took advantage of this nexus of needs by scheduling both these appointments (electrician + plumber) for the same day.\u00a0 As I reveled in my deft scheduling prowess, I had no idea I was about to be schooled with a vivid leadership lesson.\nBefore we explore that, here\u2019s some background\nEarly in my career, my colleagues and I would leave work after our typical 11-13-hour workday, and we\u2019d sit in our cars in the parking lot of Nell\u2019s Diner (Arlington, Va.) late into the usually sweltering DC-area summer evening.\u00a0 What were we doing?\u00a0 Lamenting how much better our world would be if we ran it.\u00a0 \u201cIf this was our project, we know exactly what we\u2019d do.\u201d\u00a0 We were all employees of a large consulting firm, working our tails off to build an application for the client (and our bosses).\u00a0 We knew we had all the answers if only someone recognized the compelling need to thrust the ship\u2019s helm into the hands of us 20-somethings.\u00a0 They didn\u2019t.\u00a0 So, on we bellyached into the silent, starry night, sitting in our cars, letting the swampy Arlington air waft over the hot gravel.\u00a0 Of course, this was long after Nell herself had closed her trailer-shell lunchtime diner for the day.\nA few years after that, my colleagues and I did grab the helm.\u00a0 We started our own consulting firm, and in the decades since, I\u2019ve led technology and consulting firms and seen many successful projects (and some not so successful).\u00a0 Decoding what factors lead to success still fascinates me, although it still appears more art than science, and more elusive than formulaic.\u00a0 My humbler side imagines that some new generation of employees now grinds axes in a similar parking lot, wishing for the moment that I yield my decisions to their wiser grip.\nBack to present day\nThe electricians arrived first.\u00a0 I revealed the problem, being careful not to provide any uninformed, amateur diagnosis that might damage our vulnerable, newborn relationship: \u201cThe ceiling fan worked last year with this wall switch, and now it doesn\u2019t.\u00a0 And we\u2019ve never had or used a remote control with this fan.\u201d\u00a0 The next 45 minutes would prove arduous for me and would test my patience since I desperately craved for them to own the problem, as if it were their home.\u00a0 In fact, I even used those words: \u201cIf this was your house, what would you do?\u201d\u00a0 They repeatedly insisted that the fan would only work with a handheld remote control, and the absence of one meant they could do nothing more.\u00a0 I envisioned them testing the voltage on my switch, analyzing where the current flow stopped, and hacking a solution that would return A\/C power to the fan motor.\u00a0 Even if they were right about the remote control, a slightly creative electrician could bypass the remote receiver to get the fan spinning.\u00a0 That breakthrough never occurred, despite my best attempts to charm, cajole, and use creative body language to spontaneously generate this desired behavior.\u00a0\u00a0 They departed our home leaving two things: a service call invoice, and a burning, frustrated ember inside me that only a cool breeze from the heavens could extinguish.\nEnter the plumbing crew.\u00a0 My outdoor hose spigot needed to feed two remote water pipes, plus the hose itself.\u00a0 Over the years, I had engineered a hose junction system that always dripped (slowly) and resembled the \u201cWarning Will Robinson\u201d robot from Lost in Space.\u00a0 (Later generations: please reference the \u201cNoo-noo\u201d from Teletubbies.)\u00a0 Undaunted from the electrician experience only minutes earlier, I again followed my familiar (but unproven) tactic, revealing the problem without proposing a solution.\u00a0 After several minutes of sizing up the situation, and them trying to get me to tell them what valves and fittings I wanted, I asked them the same question: \u201cIf this was your house, what would you do?\u201d\u00a0 The metamorphosis I had so desperately sought with the electricians sparked to life in the plumber duo: they immediately began devising, engineering, collaborating, and sketching.\u00a0 My soul soared as I saw the light bulb of ownership begin to glow, first faintly then blindingly unmistakable!\u00a0 They had taken ownership of this project, and the pride they now took in this project gushed with the throughput of a thousand faucets.\u00a0 After several consultations with one another and more answers from me about how we used the water, they had devised a solution that was far superior to any that I could have imagined.\u00a0 And after installation, it works perfectly \u2013 no drips, elegant appearance, confident control, and full winterization ease.\u00a0\u00a0\nWhat spurs a team to take ownership of its own solution?\u00a0 And how can leaders increase the chances of igniting this powerful spark?\u00a0\nHere are some tips designed to make the elusive more formulaic\n\nFocus on why, not how: Ban micromanagement. Everyone says they hate micromanagement, but it\u2019s rampant.\u00a0 This is because telling someone how to do something is an easy shortcut, instead of giving them a problem or goal, and telling them what you expect of them.\u00a0\nHire people who inherently take pride in everything. Having a skill is less important than taking pride in what you make and do.\u00a0 And yet most interviews focus primarily on skills.\u00a0 People who take pride in their work product aren\u2019t afraid to own a solution.\u00a0 Unfortunately, my electrician crew didn\u2019t take pride in their work (at least that day they didn\u2019t).\nDon\u2019t take returns. The plumbers tried a few times to return the solution back to me, but I refused to take it.\u00a0 Problems are never easy.\u00a0 (All the easy ones have already been solved.)\u00a0 So, teams frequently seek the safety of egging their leader to engineer a solution to escape the risk of failure.\u00a0 Stick to the overall purpose and constraints, and don\u2019t get lured into prescribing a solution that someone else will inherit.\nSpeak the mantra: \u201cIf this was your problem, how would you solve it?\u201d Then show them it really is their problem.\nOwnership is transforming. The absence of it leads to a gravel parking lot full of demoralized team members.\u00a0 Flip the switch to let your teams genuinely own their solution, and you\u2019ll soon feel the cool breeze of success.