Ownership: Being sincere is not good enough!


Benjamin Disraeili, former Prime Minister, Britain, is believed to have said, “One of the hardest things in this world is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission.”

That is about sincerity, though it may or may not reflect ownership. There is a difference between the two terms ‘sincerity’ and ‘ownership’, which is similar to the difference between doing a task and achieving a set goal. The former is sincere, while the latter means ownership of the said task.

Ownership begins with acknowledging the task at hand, taking responsibility for its resolution and finally delivering. Deviations and mistakes happen along the way, but as long as the sense of ownership is alive, course correction will happen, and the desired goal will be reached – No excuses, no explanations, just delivery !

The criticality of having the ‘right’ person

A business may have strong infrastructure and efficient systems in place, but the ‘right’ people who take responsibility are missing, things will eventually drop off.
That is why, the right selection and subsequent right absorption or induction, are fundamental processes for business success. This is the first gate or level of the quality-control process in employee interaction.

The right people are distinguished by their inner constitution and not as much by external acquisitions, such as academics, knowledge or skills. The attributes of what constitutes the ‘right person’ for an organisation differ based on the type of organisation and its business context at that point in time.

As an example, I share below five attributes we defined for the organisation I recently worked for:

1. Independent thinking

2. Ownership

3. Self-management

4. Learning ability

5. Problem-solving ability

Is sincerity a synonym for ownership?

Many often consider these two attributes as interchangeable. Some of us who subliminally know that there is a difference, find it difficult to articulate it, as the line between the two may appear blurred to them.

Compared to insincere people, the sincere ones will readily accept when they are wrong, because they possess an ‘honesty of mind’. Other people respect that honesty. It builds confidence and trust, which is essential for a good relationship.

Ownership is about taking initiative and being responsible for the quality and timeliness of an agreed outcome, even when there are factors beyond you which impact the outcome! Taking ownership is making a definitive statement – “You can trust me to do the right thing”.

In a successful outcome, both attributes —sincerity and ownership — seem to merge, however real. The acid test is in a failure outcome — those who are merely sincere, but without ownership, will ‘explain’ why things did not happen and how they are not responsible for it. There is no “explanation” from those with ownership. They take complete accountability, do not indulge in any blame game, and quickly rededicate themselves to getting things back on track.

Focus of people with ‘Ownership’ is on ‘How’, that is, on resolving the issue. On the other hand, people with ‘sincerity’ focus on ‘Who’ – on blaming and self-absolving, to an extent that they believe that as long as they have put in sincere efforts , they deserve ‘full marks‘, regardless of the outcome.

While sincerity is about honesty, ownership is about accountability.

If you remember the ‘Just Do it’ slogan of Nike, ‘ … Do It, is about Ownership.

In my well-known analogy of Maid/Mother, a maid can be insincere or sincere, but lacks ownership. Ownership is always associated with a mother.

Analogy in brief: A Mother is driven by a ‘cause’, a maid does a ‘job’. Therefore, a maid is more caught up in the ‘what‘ aspect, and hence, busy performing activities or tasks, which are her focus. She is unconnected with the result, whereas for a mother, the ‘Why‘ of what is more critical. She will remain more focused on achieving the end result than taking activities as a destination. A maid represents the ‘labour’ aspect, while a mother embodies ‘care’.

The essential difference

Sincerity is an intrinsic attribute of a person. Ownership exhibits externally in the outcome.

Sincerity is about what you are. Ownership is about what you achieve.

Sincerity is to do with effort. Ownership is about the result.

Sincerity is often exhibited in a reactive manner. Taking ownership is a proactive step.

If you have heard about the necessary and sufficient conditions in mathematics, by conclusively establishing an observation, you will realise that being sincere is fulfilling the necessary condition of dependability in any relationship – work or life, as no one consciously wants to associate with an insincere person.

Though taking ownership, which completes the story, is the sufficient condition for (dependability) relationship.

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The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000 plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information. In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Yatin Samant is an ICF PCC credentialled coach with more than 34 years of corporate working experience across a diverse set of industries, nationality/ geographies and culture, in different function areas. He has previously been the P&L head and SBU head/CEO. Samant retired early to dedicate himself to the cause of leadership development and human leveraging in general, pioneering the ‘Inside-Out’ learning pathway v/s the conventional ‘Outside-In’ pathway. He is affiliated with the ICF Bangalore chapter.


  1. Excellent Differentiation narrated between Sincerity and Ownership. I would like to draw similar parallel difference between the Efficient and Effective Manger. Very nicely described attributes of a right person at right place.It strongly endorses my belief in ‘First Class Selection is better than Selection of First Class!’

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