The Ownership Paradox: Increasing Empowerment AND Accountability

The concept of ownership in an organization is an interesting one. I can’t even begin to count the number of leaders who have reached out to me asking if I could help instill a “culture of ownership” in their organization. They want people to be more responsible and have a default of going above and beyond when it comes to their job.

I get it! As a business owner myself, I know that for the company to truly thrive, my team needs to work with a high level of ownership. But here’s the thing—they don’t own the company. Only I do. And as much as I try to create a great work environment and remain competitive in our compensation strategy, only I get to enjoy many of the perks of ownership.

So how do you instill the value of ownership in people who aren’t actually owners? I think the best answer to this question comes from author and thought leader Daniel Pink. In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he draws on four decades of research on human motivation to conclude that true ownership comes from a blend of:

  1. autonomy,
  2. mastery, and
  3. purpose.

At face value, you could assume that Pink is only promoting empowerment. However, if you delve into his work (and I strongly recommend that you do), it affirms this need to embrace both empowerment and accountability. It may seem obvious that his value of autonomy can only happen when leaders are willing to empower their employees, but his other two values—mastery and purpose—will not come from empowerment alone; they will only exist when leaders can provide healthy levels of accountability. The kind of accountability that equips, envisions, and supports what is necessary for empowered employees to thrive.

Take a look at the following chart and assess which of the four quadrants your team is currently spending the most time in.

Empowerment AND Accountability


No matter which quadrant your team is currently spending the most time in, your goal is to strive for quadrant four. To experience the positive outcomes of both empowerment and accountability, resulting in a more mindful and motivated team.

In short, empowerment and accountability only work when they are working together, and finding healthy tension between them is critical if you want to experience next-level teamwork in your organization.


“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

– Daniel H. Pink
New York Times bestselling author

“Being held accountable is an act of generosity and compassion. It is a gift that someone gives us to correct our wrongs, unlearn, and do better for the sake of our own growth. It might be uncomfortable, but it is worth the discomfort.”

– Minaa B.
Author and mental health educator

Tim Arnold

Invest in your leadership success.

Get exclusive access to a monthly Leadership Quick Tip & DIY Team activity, directly from Tim Arnold.