Leadership is about developing your team to be the best they can be. It’s easier when you are present, because you can help them by answering their questions, you can help them when they are making decisions.
But what happens when you’re away? This is the greatest test of your leadership skills and abilities. Will they make good and wise decisions if you aren’t looking over their shoulders? Have you prepared them well for times when you aren’t around?
What happens when you’re on vacation with your family, maybe on the beach, reading books and playing in the sand with your children. This is a time when work should be the farthest thing on your mind.
Yet back where you work, something has happened. Your team is wrestling with three possible decisions.
1.) Do nothing. Yes, it would be better to do something because it’s important and it impacts operations now, but it’s not critical.
2.) Call you on vacation. Yes, you’ll be disturbed, but you get to make the decision and your team is off the hook.
3.) Someone on the team decides. There is risk that they might not make the same decision you would make. They might make the right decision, they might not.
In each possibility, there is a risk. Which choice would you prefer they make?
I believe choices 1 and 2 are about you, not them. Choices 1 and 2 are about your control, you must make all the decisions. Why not, you are wise and all powerful. You justify it to yourself that you are doing it for them, so they don’t make mistakes that would harm them. Deep down, you don’t trust them, and you don’t want mistakes to be made. In my career I’ve met and worked for many leaders who would choose 1 or 2.
Choice 3 is about them, your team. That’s the one I would want made. My preference is errors of commission, i.e., a mistake doing something, instead of omission, i.e., doing nothing or punting.
In choice 3, there are two positives, regardless of the decision. In deciding, they knew they were trusted. If they didn’t feel trusted, they would have chosen 1 or 2. It also provides a teaching opportunity, a chance to walk back through what happened, affirming what they did well and how they came to the decision, and you have a chance to offer thoughts about the “next time.”
Have I cringed at decisions that were made when I was absent? Of course, what leader hasn’t. Would I have made different decisions if I was present? Certainly. But as leaders we need to get better in trusting our teams and the best way to do it was to trust them.
But you aren’t off the hook just by trusting, it’s your responsibility to prepare them for times you are away. Learn how they make decisions. Teach them your decision-making process. Help them see how changes in circumstances or facts might change a decision, as all situations are not the same. Then trust them to make decisions.
Moses was taught about delegation and developing his team by his father-in-law (Jethro) in Exodus 18, after watching him try to make all the decisions himself. It’s worth reading all of it, but here are the key excerpts, which are still appropriate today.
“What you are doing is not good…The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
“select capable (people) from all the people.”
“have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.”