“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, Sept. 20, 1820
As a leader, if you find a staff member making a bad decision, it can be tempting to step in and take the reigns. By stepping in you may solve your immediate problem, however, you also send a negative message about your level of trust. And for better or for worse, that message is more damaging in the long run than the bad decision you were initially worried about. When problems arise, get the pertinent issues on the table – talk them out – learn about others’ perspectives – and share yours. Then walk away. Let the owner of the decision make it. If you don’t feel comfortable letting someone do this, then he/she shouldn’t be working for you.
I’m currently working with a client who has historically used a command-and-control style to manage his team. Over the past year he’s been experimenting with loosening his grip – to encourage more collaboration and ownership. The process has been positive and it has opened his eyes to the negative impact of his old style. “I never realized how difficult I was making my life. I was taking responsibility for all of the critical decisions – and thus the critical thinking behind them. My team felt alienated, with no sense of ownership, and I wondered why I couldn’t get them more engaged. Not to mention, I was exhausted. It’s been a relief to to have them shoulder the burden with me. My job as a leader, I’m realizing, is not to make the decisions, but to help others make them themselves.”
The next time you feel a direct report is making a bad decision:
1. Resist the temptation to tell them what to do
2. Set aside some time to discuss the issue with them and other relevant parties.
3. Clearly share your conclusions and how you arrived at them (this is a good way to model critical thinking skills).
4. Probe their thinking on the matter.
5. Have them summarize the key insights they’ve gained from the dialogue.
6. Be clear with them that the decision is their’s to make.
Question to consider: How do you ensure that decisions are made at the lowest possible level?
Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach • New York, NY • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.clarityconsulting.com