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NEWS | Jan. 7, 2015

It's yours ... own it ... period.

By Master Sgt. Brett Hopkins 437th Operations Support Squadron first sergeant

It's yours ... own it...period.

No insightful examination of life and its lesson would be complete without this simple lesson. It applies to anything and everything. The real trick is to understand how to apply it.

"It's yours" is simply a statement that one should take ownership. Asking an individual to take ownership of their own actions is quite easy. Asking that same person to take ownership of another's actions or things beyond their control is quite difficult.

Why might you need to take ownership of another's actions? Many times it is seen when replacing an incumbent at work. Perhaps that individual wasn't up to standards. The poor environment he or she left wasn't of your creation, but without taking ownership, the path to fixing it becomes more difficult. You can't simply ask employees or coworkers to forget everything that happened prior to your arrival and to let you off with a clean slate; people don't work that way. This is similar to weight loss or trust issues in that it may take as long or longer to undo the damage as it did to inflict it. Needing to own another's action may be necessary, but what about things beyond your control?

When looking at things beyond your control most people look to weather phenomena or other "acts of God," but I caution that just as many man-made occurrences may cause you to have to take ownership. During the 2008 economic collapse many people felt there was nothing they could do to stop the onslaught of bad news each day. Their concerns were for how their family would be impacted or what they needed to do to "weather the storm." In this case, taking ownership meant committing to pitch-in and helping your fellow man. Millions of jobs and homes were lost in the aftermath of the recession. What I found most troubling was the number of people who lined up to scam, steal or take advantage of others. An owner would see the need and try to help those around them.

Owning it may strike you as what I was just talking about with "it's your," but it is very different. Owning it means to actually take some positive action. All too often people own something to the point of feeling bad about it, but fail to take any action based on their ownership. I remember hearing about Airmen as "lost causes." Nothing infuriates me more than when I ask about what happened to an individual and was told they were a good Airman, had made some bad decisions and weren't worth the effort because they were "too far gone." There were two polar opposite examples of that during my tenure that show how sometimes owning helps, but sometimes it doesn't.

The first Airman was having marital difficulties that boiled over into domestic incidents. I spoke with this Airman and hoped that encouragement and maybe some small wins would get him back on track. We spent several months providing him opportunities and praising his efforts. Sadly, following some additional poor decisions, he had resigned himself to failing at the Air Force. This Airman was involuntarily discharged due to conduct. Even taking ownership and acting doesn't always mean there will be success. 

The other Airman was a good worker who had become unhappy with his work environment and was convinced he would only be happy if he left the Air Force. I spoke with him and determined he had valid complaints. I addressed his concerns with the unit commander and tried to find a way to encourage him to keep working towards success and it would eventually come. This Airman was promoted and took charge of the daily operations of his section. He turned an office of displeased people into motivated Airmen, won some awards along the way and was selected to be an instructor at his career field's technical training school. He reenlisted to take that job and had become a well-respected NCO when he left our unit. In both cases, we had taken ownership and acted. The results weren't the same, but there were results due to the "period."

The last part of the phrase, period, seems to connote an ending, but it doesn't. The meaning of the period is to follow-up. Neither Airman would have benefitted from a pep-talk with zero follow-up. In both cases the actions taken by those around the Airmen seemed beneficial, but in following up we discovered that some didn't help as much as we had hoped. Providing opportunity is great, but making someone commit all their energy and time for the opportunities provided may seem a little "smothery."

That's the lesson I learned during follow-up with one of these Airmen. That's the real truth here. Owning it, acting on it and following-up are required for all things, but getting the desired result isn't. Sometimes that result may be a problem that requires a new, different type of ownership. I'm not saying you are responsible for everyone and everything that happens around you, but if it's within arm's reach you can affect it.