Leaders must push decision-making down the ladder

published in the Nashville Business Journal

When decision-making is pushed to those truly accountable it takes the monkey off your back—and places it where it belongs.

I learned this lesson early in my career and credit it as a significant cog in the wheel of success. When decision-making is made at the lowest possible level in the organization, ownership and pride follow. Your people are empowered, and you’re free to think and lead.

Next time you feel pushed to make a decision, stop and ask yourself this question: Who is going to be accountable for the execution?

If the answer is not you, then maybe the decision belongs to someone else. Don’t jump to make decisions that could and should be made by others. Execution will usually work best when those accountable make the final decision.

Here’s an example: During my Tractor Supply store visits salespeople often tell me about new product suggestions, usually based on what they’ve heard from customers. It would be easy for me to have the buyer test the new product, but then I would own it. The better solution is to pass along any reasonable new product idea to the proper buyer. The buyer then owns the decision and will quickly tout the new product as a wild success or quickly make sure a loser goes away. That is putting decision-making and accountability in the same place.

Likewise, sometimes operations decisions would be dropped in my lap, to which I responded, “Who is best positioned to make this decision?” The decision needs to go to those who have the most knowledge — and those are usually the people closest to the work.

See, we’re back to accountability. Those who will actually be responsible for getting the work done generally make the best decisions.

So next time an employee asks you what you think ought to be done about a particular issue, don’t answer so fast. A smarter response might be to ask, “What do you think ought to be done?” In most cases that person would make a much better decision.

Part of your job as a leader is to identify when to push decision-making down the ladder so your mind is no longer clogged with unnecessary data. You should be free to think creatively. After all, your time and horsepower is best spent envisioning the future of your business.

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