Great Leaders Make the Minimum Number of Decisions

"Great leaders make the minimum number of decisions that...they have to.... If the vested interests of the organization is not at stake, don't make the decision; let someone else make the decision.... Leaders [should] try to limit the number of decisions that they are making to critical or strategic decisions and not believe that you have to make them all because you're the leader.... The more you have all the individuals of the organization involved in decision making, the more everybody in the organization will have ownership of the direction of the organization."

--Frank Anderson on Polarity Management (

How often have employees felt frustrated by trying to do their job only to have their manager step in and tell them to things in a completely different way? How often have employees been told, "This is important; make it your highest priority!" before they've even finished their last "highest priority" task? Which one should they do: the one almost completed or the new "highest priority" one?

What usually does happen is that employees get frustrated and discouraged. While they may try to accommodate their manager's directives for some time, they soon notice a pattern in these managerial demands and they form one of their own. Rather than racing to finish one task or setting things aside to start the new one, they set things aside and go for coffee, or carry on with their normal routine as usual until they can discern which way the ship will list.

Of course management has a role in helping to set priorities, and management also has a role to play in setting acceptable standards for work quality. But when managers step in and trod on the work being done by their employees, nothing is being accomplished. Why is this this?

There are a number of reasons for this failure to perform:

  1. Telling an employee to do things a certain way doesn't coach him or her is why things must be done this way. Quality standards should define process or outcome but they shouldn't be arbitrary or spontaneously determined.
  2. Managers must be seen to be eating their own dog food. A manager who tells employees to follow processes or priorities and then circumvents those same processes at whim quickly dissipate loyalty and commitment within their team. If everything is a high priority for your team, then it should be a high priority for you too!
  3. Setting a task as a high priority doesn't help the employee see how this fits into the organizational strategy. If the employee could see this connection, then maybe he or she could even find a better, faster, or cheaper way to support that strategy.
  4. Similarly, setting a task as a high priority when it's not (either because there is no organizational strategy to which it aligns, or it's only a high priority because the manager forgot to assign it to someone until the last minute) doesn't engender much passion for the task either.

But perhaps the biggest problem with this way of managing is that the manager is spending so much time dealing with the bits and bytes of the business that he or she can't look up and out and see the direction in which the team should point.

A good leader should set the direction, share the vision, mediate the challenges and difficulties, implement process, define the corporate culture (by direction and example), and then let people climb onboard and get the work done.