I still remember my first presentation as a professional consultant. I had only been on the job for a few weeks and we were doing a strategic planning project for a large energy company. I had done a key part of the analysis that needed to be shown to the client, so my manager asked me to give the presentation. Our consulting firm had a particular style for presentations, so my boss did quite a bit of editing and reformatting of my slides. No problem. I thought that I was ready ... until I gave the presentation. I stumbled through it. And I realized afterwards that even though it was my analysis, it was my manager's presentation. I had never really "owned" the final version of the slides. Leaders are regularly faced with a version of this temptation to "fix" someone else's work, especially when the leader is also the owner. The risk is that in doing so, these leaders take “ownership” away from the staff members who have spent considerable time on the task or project up to that point. That can be demoralizing. But even worse than that, it can also lead to less than satisfactory results. Staff members may fall short when the work is given back to them because they don't understand the "improvements." Or the leader is forced to stay over-involved when he or she should be working on other things.
I don't want my opening illustration to be misunderstood. My manager's changes truly did improve the presentation. It communicated the right information in a much more meaningful way. Some of the fault belonged squarely on my shoulders for not spending more time practicing with the new slides so that I was comfortable with them. But the question remains for every leader: how can you accomplish your goals and meet your standards for excellence and at the same time, allow staff members to retain a sense of ownership?