Are You a Bottleneck In The Decision-Making Process?

Have you ever had a boss who was a complete control freak?

The type of boss who just had to have the final say on everything?

When I was the director of human resources for a mid-sized construction company, I reported to the Executive Vice President. He was just like that: always insisting that the decision-making process started and ended with him.

He was the type of manager who insisted on making nearly every single decision in the company.

He didn’t come right out and say “I need to have the final say on everything,” but what he did say was “Just make sure to run things by me.” 

In his own mind, he thought he was helping everyone. He thought this was how to be a responsible business leader. He wasn’t displaying the essential leadership qualities that all great leaders possess (learn what these qualities are here).

For example, when he asked one of my staff to coordinate the quarterly staff luncheons, he insisted on reviewing the menu selections each time before she was allowed to place the food order.

Even though he had given her the task of coordinating the luncheon, he had to have his say before the food was ordered.

Don’t think that’s a big deal?

Well, it is.

Reason being, there is a fallout from his approach.

Like most EVP’s, my boss was frequently out of the office at business meetings and on business trips. The days he was in the office, and particularly the day after he returned from a trip, the directors of each department were lined up outside his door waiting for their turn to “run things by him” so he could give his approval to proceed.

This caused a massive delay in when and how projects were completed, and created a huge bottleneck in the decision-making process.

Directors would even tell other directors in passing: “I’m third in line after Joe and Susan”, effectively taking a number to see him.

There was so much collective time wasted while all the projects and initiatives his directors were working on were held up waiting for his approval.

 The Hazards of Hoarding Decisions

Wasted time and lost efficiency is just scratching the surface of the damage that is done when managers insist on making decisions that their subordinates are capable of making.

When managers do this during the decision-making process, the following things can happen.

They Rob Their Staff of Development Opportunities

The ability to make decisions with progressively greater impact is the gateway to career advancement.

How can people be expected to develop their decision-making abilities if they’re rarely given the opportunity to make any substantial decisions? If you want to learn more about how to ensure your employees are constantly developing, learn more about my succession planning workshop series.

 They Kill Employee Engagement

 The autonomy to make decisions related to how work is carried out is a primary source of enjoyment, pride, motivation and productivity at work.

When you take away a person’s ability to make decisions in the workplace, it decreases motivation and brings down morale. Allowing people to make decisions will give them the confidence they need to do a good job.

They Squash Initiative

Employees who are not given the chance to make many decisions of consequence, or who are punished when they do, learn very quickly to not make any decisions until being told.

Worse still, they learn not to take accountability for their work because they were “just following orders.” (I talk more about how to develop personal accountability in this blog post. I also provide an accountability workshop series, which you can learn more about here).

They Stifle Innovation

The freedom to make decisions unleashes imagination, creativity, and human potential. Being told what to do stifles our potential. This takes away someone’s ability to be innovative.

What Can You Do About It?

Odds are, you are reading this thinking: “I know just who I’d like to send this to!”

If that thought ran across your mind, consider this: is it possible that someone else could be thinking the same thing about you?

Is it possible that you yourself perform work (or make decisions) that your subordinates are capable of doing? Is it possible that you are completing tasks that these people should be doing as part of their career development?

If so, you’re in good company.

In my experience, just about everyone has some room to improve their delegation skills. And there are simple things you can do to improve these skills.

Here Are the 5 Keys to Effective Delegation

Define the Objectives and Success Criteria of the Work You’d like to Delegate

What exactly will you (or the company or customers) be able to DO when the work is completed?

What are the objectives of the project? It is important to set clear goals and objectives when delegating.

Define Decision-Making Authority

Give examples of decisions that do and don’t require discussion with you, including how much time or money can be spent without first notifying you.

Doing this will give your subordinates a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do, and will result in fewer setbacks and delays.

Resist the Urge to ‘Improve’ Your Subordinate’s Ideas, or to Give Them the ‘Right Answers’

When you do this, you take ownership away from them. This turns them from a thinker into an order-taker. It also stifles their creativity and confidence.

Instead, encourage them to solicit input from the people who will be affected by their decisions.

Don’t Expect Perfection

In many cases, you can do the work better than your subordinates can.

But that doesn’t matter.

Delegating tasks to your subordinates frees you up to work on things only youcan do.


Have you ever completed an assignment only to be left hanging, wondering if the person who assigned it was happy with it? Not knowing if you did a good enough job?

It’s a disconcerting feeling, isn’t it?

You should never let the people you delegate to just hang in limbo wondering how they did. Instead, arrange a time where you can sit with them and review their results against the established success criteria.

When they meet the criteria, praise them so they know what success looks and feels like. If you need some more tips on practices that will make employees want your feedback, check out this blog post.

Trust The Expertise Of Your Staff

Generally speaking, the higher you climb in an organization, the more you must become a generalist. Chances are you’ve hired someone with more experience in a specific discipline to do that specific type of work.

When you respect their expertise and set the appropriate guidelines, you’ll help your staff develop their careers. This will allow you to become more engaged in their work while freeing up more of your time in the long run.

For more information on this topic, check out our Delegation & Empowerment Workshop!


Liked this blog on the decision-making process? Here are some more of our most popular posts of interest to leaders:

Three Steps to Develop Personal Accountability

The Key To Reducing Conflict And Improving Teamwork

How To Predict Leadership Potential

4 Responses

  1. Great post – this has got to be one of the most common pitfalls of leaders who try too hard. I’ve found that I need to remind myself that perfect is not usually the goal and I can get more done if I step back.

    1. Good observation Hugh. Most people can quickly find fault in other’s ability to delegate, but only the best can hold up a mirror and see where they can improve. It sounds like you’re in the latter category! Thanks for being a great example to the rest of us!

  2. In addition to killing engagement, I would say my biggest frustration as a highly creative type is not being able to experience fully the unleashing of imagination – what a great feeling that is. Good read.

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