Secrets of Being a Great Manager: Part Two


As I recounted last in my last blog, the executive director of a non-profit organization asked me recently to share with his management team the secrets of being a great manager. The first principle I laid out was “No skip management.” In this blog, I’m going to describe the second principle.

As the managers convened in the conference room, I wrote these words on a white board: “Clarify decision-making authority.” I looked around. “This is something that most managers never get the hang of, because it requires a vocabulary that most people never learn.”

What vocabulary, someone asked.

“You first need to learn the five different types of decisions: autocratic, consultative, consensus, delegated, and democratic. Then you need to know that there are at least three levels of delegation. Each level carries with it a different level of decision-making responsibility.”

That’s a lot to absorb already, someone else said.

“Yes, but the principle is simple. Organizations only function well when managers delegate decisions. If you aren’t delegating, then you aren’t leveraging the people who work for you.”

A woman raised her hand. “If we adopt it as a principle in our organization, then I assume we expect everyone to work together to make sure it’s happening?”

“That’s right. It takes practice – and training. But with time, like a football team, you’ll start to know the plays and can communicate them quickly. For example, a Delegated Level A decision is one where you delegate the responsibility to recommend. Maybe it’s deciding on a new computer system, or how to enter a new market, or a new hire. Level A means you’ve delegated the responsibility to recommend – but final approval remains with you. Level B means you’ve delegated the responsibility to recommend and decide – yet you still want to be kept in the loop about the decision. Level C means you don’t need to be kept in the loop.”

Are those the only levels, someone asked?

“Yes, those are the basic levels, although there are lots of nuances. For example, if you’re providing coaching, you need to make sure your coaching doesn’t feel like you’re giving direction. You need to constantly say: “This is your decision and my input is to help you. Ultimately, you need to decide what you think is best. That’s true of both Level B and Level C delegations.”

What else?

“Well, if a decision goes badly, you need to take responsibility for what happened. After all, it was your decision to delegate. If you made a bad judgment call, then you need to take responsibility as much as the person to whom you delegated the decision.”

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