I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Management - Decisions

A leader should decide as little as possible.

Many people find it difficult to decide. They agonise on alternatives and keep postponing the moment when they finally must commit themselves to one of them. When I say that a leader should decide as little as possible I certainly don't mean that.

There is a big difference between not being able to do something and deciding not to do it. What I mean with deciding as little as possible is that a leader should leave as much decisional space as possible to the people reporting to her. Only in that way can she empower her collaborators and add meaning to their jobs.

Let me give you a real life example. In one occasion, I had a group of twelve engineers working on a critical project. We had agreed on tasks and schedule, but it wasn't yet completely clear who would do what. Most managers would have simply assigned the tasks in what they believed to be the best possible way, perhaps after some consultation with the most senior engineers. I took a different approach: I called the whole team into a meeting room and announced that they would decide the task assignments themselves. Before leaving them alone, I said: “I don't really care how long it will take, but I expect that you will not leave this room without a name beside each task.”

It was a very successful operation, and the commitment of each one of them received a great boost. It is mostly arrogance from the part of the managers that makes them believe to know more about everybody’s skills. The team members know perfectly well what they can do.

In general, the idea that a manager is paid to make decisions is a bad misconception. A manager is mainly paid to achieve results through her collaborators. “Who decides what” is totally irrelevant.

This doesn't mean that a manager never has to decide anything. In fact, any manager has to make decisions every day. The issue, really, is: who decides by default. In my opinion, instead of asking herself whether she could delegate a decision to her collaborators, a manager should ask: “Do I really need to take this decision away from them?”

In most cases, the decisions are pretty straightforward, but the attitude I just described is necessary to really implement what is nowadays called employee empowerment.

Like in everything involving human beings, the major risk is to go overboard and come across as a manager who is not capable of deciding. Two major aspects must be kept in mind:
1. It must be clear that the manager always has overrule and veto rights.
2. Enough information must be available for the team member[s] to decide.

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