When we encounter people who carry themselves with seemingly effortless independence and confidence, we might describe them as "self-possessed." The term is fascinating: It carries with it connotations of control and ownership, both of which come from within rather than an external authority. By owning our identity from the inside out, we can give ourselves access to self-possession. It's that simple.
But what happens when a group of individuals join forces in the context of an organization? Sure, most or all of any organization's employees tend to be "on the same page" about the organizational mission. But how does an institution made up of diverse individuals go about perpetuating its name and purpose with a unified message? And how does it do so with an emphasis on the importance of owning it?
We can start with what owning it would look like at the organizational level. Any institution's success is predicated on effective leadership. Period. Given that organizations "own" a particular space -- the programs and services they deliver, the audiences they serve, the communities they build -- it is important that management is crystal clear about the institution's unique value proposition and how it distinguishes itself in an often crowded marketplace.
Above all, leaders must champion the role of communications -- both internal and external -- and recognize that the organization as a whole must own what it wishes to communicate, and do so with consistency and confidence. Within the organization, communications should focus on asking the following questions: 1. Who are we as an organization -- what is our DNA? 2. What do we do well? 3. What differentiates us? 4. What is the impact of our work? 5. How can we grow to ensure that we are meeting the need we were created to address?
From there, every member of the organization must own the answers to these questions. It is the leadership's job to ensure this, through effective internal communications, team-building exercises and creating a culture of collaboration. Just as the "self-possessed" individual may grapple with questions of identity, a successful organization must address the institutional expression of owning it -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Henry Ford wisely said, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." It is an organization's leadership that can establish the culture of collaboration so that momentum can develop and collective impace can be achieved. If everyone is "moving forward together," success becomes inevitable.
Of course, external messaging must also be consistent with internal communications. Every member of an organization should see him or herself as an ambassador, carrying the identity and promise of the organization's work with clarity, conviction and pride. From the board chair to the newest hire, every individual needs to own the organization's identity and convey it with dignity. The institution's purpose should be articulated with shared language but also flavored with each individual's own particular experience and perspective. This is owning it on both the individual and institutional level. Aligned as such, they sky truly does become the limit.