To Grow as a Leader, Stop Making Decisions

Posted: February 1, 2015 by Bob Gilbreath in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

Bob-G-2015We often praise leaders that stand at the center of decision-making. We marvel at the technology CEO who personally chooses buttons for a new phone, the actor who also produces and directs his next film, and the pro sports coach who negotiates the power to “buy the groceries” as general manager. It makes for a good story, but often a horrible organization. Most successful leaders get there by minimizing the number of decisions they make.

For entrepreneurs, the day is filled with decisions small and large. It is a function of the habit of being the decider from day one, but also comes from the personal pressure of owning the company. For those who start a business because they think it’s good to be the king, this model is great. For the rest of us who are striving to build a sustainable, scaling business it can mean disaster.

Three problems appear when leaders insist on being involved in every detail: First, progress slows down, as there is simply not enough time on the CEO’s calendar. Second, these leaders do not have enough information to consistently make good decisions. They might be brilliant and experienced, but they miss the details and nuances on the ground. Third, their people stop thinking for themselves and take less personal responsibility for results. They worry about “What will Bob think?” rather than “What should I do here?”

I have to remind myself every day that if all the decisions come to me, we will never have a large, growing business. Three specific adjustments have helped keep me out and encourage others to step up.

First, I force myself to speak last and least in almost any meeting with members of our team. It’s hard to do, but it forces your staff to own the meeting and decisions. They think more independently instead of waiting for me to cut them off. Better yet, I end up genuinely listening and evolving my opinion through their input.

I also challenge my team to make recommendations, rather than punting a decision up to me. One of my favorite phrases is: “This is your business or project, so lead my thinking.” The nudge here is that if they want me to make the decisions, then they are not really owning their projects.

As the scholar said, “Freedom isn’t free”; leaders should push decisions down, but make sure they are holding people accountable and watching their progress. That is why any organization that hopes to scale must deploy a series of organizational and personal objectives, each with measurable results. This gives employees clarity around expectations and priorities. Leaders spend more of their days monitoring performance and leaning in where help is specifically needed.

Getting out of decision making can be very difficult for startup founders. The business is so personal and you can sometimes feel guilty for not knowing everything all the time. But when you get over these fears and give up, it starts to feel amazing. There is nothing more rewarding for me than to see that you have created a self-sustaining organization with energized “mini CEOs” making smart, fast decisions on their own.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s