As leaders, we say we want our people to be empowered and to go out and make decisions. We say we’re okay with them making mistakes and we’ll still support them making decisions on their own.
But not really.
I’m lucky to have a huge leadership lab in the form of the SmartBrief on Leadership weekly pulse poll. Every week I ask a leadership-related question and thousands of people respond to those polls. Sometimes I get a little sneaky and conduct my own experiments over the period of a few weeks. I conducted one of these experiments recently.
First I asked “Would you rather have a team member make decisions and make mistakes or make no decisions and leave that up to you?”
Unsurprisingly, all us empowering leaders were eager to give our team members the latitude to make decisions and make mistakes. 96% of respondents said they’d rather have a team member make a decision even if they make mistakes. A measly 4% of respondents wanted the team to leave all decisions up to them.
I observed we want our team members to take the initiative, take action and move things forward, even if they make mistakes. It is incumbent upon us as leaders to ensure that, when they do make mistakes, we realize we gave them the latitude to take action — handling the mistakes in that context accordingly. While we need to hold them accountable for the mistake, we also need to ensure they learn from it and do so in a way that we don’t make them afraid to make more mistakes in the future. Heck, I believe so strongly in this notion of decision making and empowerment that I dedicated a whole chapter of One Piece of Paper to the topic (grab a copy here and check out Chapter 13).
The following week I conducted the second part of my experiment.