When I was a teenager, I went on a road trip with some buddies to see a friend in another state. A couple of hundred miles from home, my car broke down, and my friends I was stranded on the side of the road. A nice guy stopped and gave us a ride to a payphone (Google that if you are unsure what it is). With coins in hand, I was able to place a phone call to my dad. As I explained to him what had happened, I was fully expecting him to tell me what to do. That was the way we had always done things. I present the data, and he makes the decision. This time was different. This time he asked me what I was going to do. We brainstormed possibilities, and then he asked me again which one of the possibilities we had discussed was I going to do. I told him my decision, and he wished me luck. “Give me a call when you get it fixed and let me know how it went,” he said.
What my dad had done was to transfer the locus of control from him to me. It was all part of a clever plan to make me more personally responsible for the outcome of my life. Up until this point, he had made the decisions.
When Leaders Delegate Decision Making
Locus is Latin for “place” or “location.” As a leader, you are most likely the locus of control for the business’s decisions day in and day out. Unless, of course, you do what my parents were cleverly doing and move the locus closer to where the decisions needed to be made. But like my parents, you can’t just throw the locus over the wall and say good luck; you need to intentionally develop your people so they can make wise and well-informed decisions.
Responsible vs. Accountable
There are many reasons that leaders don’t want people on their teams making decisions, and most of those reasons center around the feeling of losing control if you share control. I think it is important to remember that you, the leader, are ultimately accountable for the decisions made on your team. You can’t delegate accountability, but you can delegate responsibility. You can share responsibility with others, but in the end, you will have to answer for the outcomes that each decision drives.
The 5-Questions of Delegating Decision Making
Delegating the act of making decisions is the ultimate coaching-leader activity. Leaders need to be working to develop the skill of decision-making in the people on their team. A great way to do that is to walk through their thinking on a decision you are going to make so you can get a feel for how they see the business and the potential outcomes of the decisions that need to be made.
Here are the 5 Questions for understanding their ability to make good decisions:
Step 1 – what do you think? Do they have a point-of-view? Are they thinking about the situation, and do they see the decision that needs to be made?
Step 2 – What are the options? Can they analyze the situation and determine which way to go? Can they see the situation from both sides? Do they see options they could pursue?
Step 3 – What are the risks? Can they do a risk assessment of the consequences of the decision?
Step 4 – What are the benefits? Can they see the outcome if they get what they are hoping to get after making the decision?
Step 5 – What will you do? Can they commit to a direction and the decision that needs to be made?
When you do this a couple of times, you will develop a comfort level, or not, with their readiness to take on some of the responsibility in your organization for making decisions. You can effectively move the locus of control from you to them.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.