As leaders, we walk the tightrope of leadership. If we fall on one side of the rope, we take away decisions our direct reports should be made. If we fall on the other side, we allow our team to make potentially risky decisions that negatively impact the business. The way you stay on the rope is by demanding ownership of a decision.
When you have a direct report who is trying to make a risky decision regarding a piece of their business, be it projects or people, we have to find a way to help them feel like the decision is theirs while reducing the risk. To do that, I challenge my direct reports to own their decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, my direct reports are owners. They have been empowered to be owners. But there are times when each person has a human moment and tries to delay a tough decision. It could be for many different reasons, but ultimately it’s because they don’t have a clear path or answer, so they delay.
Remember though, we talked about decisions being risky. If I allow my direct report to not take action, that could result in an even greater risk to the company, especially when it comes to a person’s performance or lack thereof. If my direct report wants to give chance after chance to a person who is underperforming, I’m not going to take the decision away from them. I’m not going to have a conversation with that underperformer for example. Nor am I going to allow the business to be negatively impacted by the poor performance of an individual because we didn’t take the proper action.
What I do instead is I set the expectation in very clear terms that my direct report owns their decision.
“Sally, you want Joe to stay on your team even though he is underperforming and there are risks associated with that? Fine, but then understand that missing your financial targets this month because of Joe won’t be an option. Said differently, understand that I expect your team to deliver on their business targets and if that doesn’t happen, it can’t be because of Joe. To the point that if you have to personally step in and do the work in order to deliver the month, that is my expectation. I expect you to personally own this decision.”
The conversation is clear, direct, and there is no guesswork as to what I am allowing them to do or what I expect as a result.
Sometimes I have had team members hear my expectations and they change their minds on their decision. It causes them to do a double-take when they realize they may have to do more work or that there won’t be a pass provided if they don’t deliver. When they do that, I celebrate them in the fact that they heard the message and they had the courage to reevaluate their decision and choose a different course of action.
If they stay committed to their original decision, I support them just the same. At the end of the day, the business won’t suffer because they are charged with keeping it on track. The underperformer, in this example, Joe, will either perform or Sally will see that she can’t pick up his slack and she will start holding him accountable for his performance. No matter the pathway, it’s a win. The customer/client didn’t suffer nor did the business during this time that we allowed our direct report to make a risky decision and own it.
Is there a situation happening right now within your team that you can apply this? Try it.