How To Guide Your Employees to Empowered Decision-Making

We live in a time of the open-door policy. In the last thirty to forty years, the average leader has become much more accessible to their people—which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always believed wholeheartedly that leaders should be on the ground with their team, as it’s one of the things that separates a leader from a boss.

But at the same time, there is such a thing as too much accessibility … and you might recognize it when you see a long line waiting by your door for help making important decisions. You’ve hired a group of leaders to lighten your load, ensuring that you don’t need to be involved in every detail of the company’s processes. So why are you making their choices for them? If you’re ready to help your senior leaders to step up and start making decisions of their own, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

1. Adjust your mindset.

You must be ready for this. You have to get yourself to a place where you trust the people you’ve hired. It can be a difficult mental shift, especially if you’re used to making decisions and haven’t really let go since you moved up the career ladder. But what’s the worst that can happen—they’ll fail?

Let’s talk about that for a second. You need to be open to the possibility of failure. It’s the best way for your employees to learn. Failure is part of reality, and as a leader, you have to be ready to let your employees fail (and to let them learn from it).

2. Ease into it.

To help your people get into the decision-making mindset, you’ll need to take things slow. The temptation is to just proclaim that you aren’t making decisions for your employees anymore. But this isn’t going to work: you aren’t there yet, and neither are they.

Here’s a better way. Start reviewing their decisions. When they ask you what to do, rather than simply offering up an answer, encourage them to tell you what they think is best and why. Once they’ve explained, you can tell them why you agree or disagree, bring up any points they missed, and share your strategy for making this type of decision. 

This does a number of things. First, you teach them your thought process, allowing them to start making similar decisions in the future. Second, it gets them in the habit of thinking things through, encouraging them to prepare a solution and rationale before they even walk through your door. Third, it empowers them. When you hand the decision-making process back to them, they feel important, understanding that this is something they can do on their own. Lastly, it creates accountability. When you’re the one making the decisions, the responsibility is on you. When you share in the process with your employee, that accountability flips back to them, ensuring that they can’t pass the buck upstream.

Over time, you’ll grow more comfortable allowing your people to make critical decisions, and they’ll be more comfortable making them. Eventually, you’ll find that the line outside your door has grown smaller, allowing you to consider the big-picture issues a leader should focus on—and you’ll have empowered your employees to bring more value to the table.