To Know. To Understand. To Own.

I want to point out the difference between knowing, understanding and owning. Many people use the first two words interchangeably without appreciating the difference.

Let’s have the dictionary definitions:

To Know: to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty; to be cognizant or aware of; to be acquainted with.

To Understand: to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend; to be thoroughly familiar with; apprehend clearly the character, nature, or subtleties of. 

To own: to have or hold as one’s own; possess; to acknowledge as one’s own; recognize as having full claim, authority, power, dominion, etc.

Here we see the three stages of development. To know is to be aware of. For example, I can know about the game of golf, or I can know what is required to drive a car. To understand means I appreciate what is needed to be a golfer, or what is needed to drive a vehicle. To own means I take responsibility for it. In other words, I have taken my knowledge and understanding and applied it and I own the results.

Here is my point, successful action comes from ownership. Successful action comes from being responsible for the results of how I apply my knowledge and understanding. Ownership means I am prepared to apply the knowledge and understanding in a way that achieves results.

Recently I opened a bank account and was faced with someone who did not ‘own’ the relationship between him and I.  He knew and understood the rules and regulations that the bank had, he was able to quote them to me and tell me what was not possible.  At no stage did he own the relationship with me.  He was unable to integrate his knowledge and understanding of the bank’s rules and regulations and marry them with his knowledge and understanding of my needs to create a solution that satisfied both of us, THAT is a lack of ownership.

So my questions for you are:

  • Do your people know and understand the processes; rules and regulations in your business but don’t know or understand how to own them?
  • Are your people rewarded for their knowledge and understanding, or do you reward them for how they own and apply what they know and understand?
  • Is your training and development aimed at providing knowledge and understanding only, or does it encompass helping them and ensuring they own what they learn?
  • How good are you at encouraging ownership in your people?
  • How good a role model are you and your managers at taking ownership?

I go into many organistions where people know the aims and understand why they are there. They know the rules and why they are in place. However, the limiting factor is; they do not own them!

Without ownership, they will never be as effective, and motivation will always be an issue.

  • What is your organisation good at?
  • Is it good at providing knowledge?
  • Is it good at giving understanding?
  • Is it good at creating ownership?

I hope the understanding of the subtle differences between these will help you look at your organisation, your leadership style, and help yourself to be a better leader of your people as a result.

Have a great month and best wishes, Paul


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