Empowering Teammates to Make Decisions

As I walked out of my office and headed to the conference room for a meeting last week, one of my teammates stopped me to ask a question. I’m sure she sensed from the pace of my walk that this wouldn’t be a good time to engage in a lengthy conversation. She stopped herself from starting to tell a story and then said, “Never mind. I know how to make this decision. You trust me, right?”

And bam! Just like that, our short encounter became what I call a “leader’s defining moment.” These “moments” to lead are such great opportunities, and I think they’re so much more meaningful than a planned learning lesson. Of course I trusted her decision-making ability, but I was also kind of curious as to what her question was and why she felt she needed to come to me anyway.

My reply was a grin and a few words of encouragement. I told her I trusted her decision and I knew she’d talked it over with her teammates, so if they were all good to go, then so was I.

Our exchange was in the hallway, so other teammates overheard us and added their own comments like, “Don’t screw it up!” Ha ha. This just made the moment even better because the pressure to perform wasn’t coming from me. I delivered the encouragement and trusted the performance would happen. Then, her wonderful, loving teammates applied the pressure. Perfect!

Now, some of you may be thinking that this situation is way too liberal for a leader to let happen, and I would agree with you under certain conditions. However, the conditions for this empowerment were healthy, and here’s why:

  1. This teammate is experienced, so I knew she had the knowledge necessary to make a good decision.
  2. This teammate is timid, so I know she wouldn’t go too far out on a limb without bringing me in the loop.
  3. This teammate has so much growth potential, so I wanted her to experience the freedom of making decisions without my authority.
  4. I saw who she was with when she approached me, and I respected that person’s knowledge level. I was comforted knowing more than one brain was on this topic.
  5. I know who this person directly reports to and respect that leader’s ability to establish an environment of common sense decision-making.

Empowering others can be tricky. If you do it too soon, you can create a mess to clean up. If you do it too late, you can drive performers nuts by hoarding the power of being the only decision maker. Check back next week when we’ll talk about some simple ways you can empower your teammates and support their ability to make decisions.

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  • […] week I talked about the importance of empowering teammates to make decisions. Teammates who aren’t empowered to make even the smallest decisions feel stifled and […]

  • Anonymous says:

    I would give my right arm to work for a person who empowered me like this. My satisfaction at work would go through the roof if I did not feel like I was being micromanaged.

    • Linda says:

      So sorry you are feeling this way. I’ve been there myself and it’s not fun. Think through the why behind why a manager feels they have to micro manage. Are you fulfilling your role when it measures up against expectations? If not then perhaps it’s a trust issue. If you are then it’s more of a control issue. If you feel you can be open, have a talk with your direct manager and express your feelings.

      Thanks for sharing and good luck.