Grant decision authority to reward prior success

Leaders who care more about retaining power than getting results often try to hold all of the cards.

20 traffic light art pieceThese authoritarian leaders insist that only they are in a position decide anything, especially when it come to deciding whom to reward or punish.

They say that they demand “loyalty”, but they really don’t know how to find others whom they can really trust.

In contrast, in complex organizations, truly effective and powerful leaders grant decision-making authority thoughtfully. They offer this responsibility to carefully selected others as a reward given only to those who have shown that they can wield this power effectively. More specifically, effective leaders grant decision authority only to those who are trusted to decide in alignment with the broader objectives of the organization.

Holding all of the authority close, may create clarity about who is in charge, but it also slows things down. Worse, it makes everyone else feel dependent on “the leader” and on his or her largess. In authoritarian organizations, one measures professional success by how skilfully one curries favor rather than how effectively one achieves results. These work environments present a false sense of stability because the focus is inward, centered on the leader as the stable anchor.

Missing in these places is the outward gaze that is always scanning for opportunities and threats in the marketplace. The leader simply calls the shots. When things get rough, there is infighting and paralysis. Things must change, but nobody is ready. No one is empowered to act. In complex organizations too much is happening for any one person to fully understand and control events. And since no one else is used to deciding anything, nothing gets done.  The authoritarian style of leadership is the enemy of flexibility and innovation.

In contrast, effective leaders understand that identifying thoughtful and effective decision makers – and empowering them to act – leverages prior success to continue moving forward. Leadership teams that trust each other, even when the way forward is uncertain, continue to do so even when complexity appears to overwhelm an organization’s capacity to act quickly and work effectively.

Effective leaders are continually asking themselves whom they can trust to carry the weight of authority. They are always on the lookout to identify and test managers in an effort to find out who in their organization has the domain experience, the demonstrated judgement and the gravitas to make the call – or seek appropriate counsel – when a tough decision has to me made.

Perhaps more than anything else, effective leadership is about sharing the load, and sharing it well.

Jim Hazy

Founder and CEO, Leadership Science, LLC

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