The Franciscan friar Richard Rohr talks about the two parts of life: the first half in which we learn and conquer and grasp, and the second in which we learn to give and let go.
Similarly, in my experience, there are two parts in the successful startup employee journey. And like most true and valuable things, they are seemingly contradictory, though they can harmonize in beautiful ways.
The first is taking on ownership. When you first start at a small company, you’re going to succeed if you take as much ownership as possible for the things you are tasked with and for the things which just need to be done. Taking ownership means taking responsibility for ensuring that things get done. It means not making excuses, not passing the buck, and not balking at work because it is outside of your job description.
You have to be aggressive in grasping opportunities to take ownership and get things done. This is how you establish yourself as a valuable ground-level employee. And if your company is growing from a small scale, your aggressive attitude toward ownership will help you reach that.
But the irony is that doing all of this will put you in a position which can seem to require a different set of values.
When your company is growing and your brand is growing stronger, then you have to know how to give up ownership well. You have to know how to relinquish knowledge, control, and credit to the others. You have to give the shot to others who are coming after you.
More often than not, you must be doing both parts at once. You have to have a grasping hand and an open one. You have to take ownership to make things happen, but as soon as you can be sure those things will happen without you, move on. Pass ownership on. You have to love the good, whether it’s coming from you or someone else.
In both parts of successful startup life, you must never stay still, and you must never hold on. By definition you should not have territory. As a good startup employee, you are a nomad, going from objective to objective. Be ready to greet the “taking on” and “giving up” of responsibility with equanimity.