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How much rope?


Whether you are a manager, Board member, Advisor, or a parent, you always wrestle with the question of how much rope to give someone when they are making decisions?  Do you keep them on a tight leash, or give them enough to hang themselves?

As a manager, where you own direct responsibility for the outcome, you can justify a tighter leash.  You want to encourage the people on your team to take risks.  Failure is the best way to learn, and most people fail before they succeed.  But, if failure has a big consequence, or your own success depends on the success of the people you manage in this instance, you may want to closely monitor what is going on and keep them on course.  Let the innovations be their idea, but don't let them drive into the ditch.

In a situation where you don't have such direct managerial responsibility, this is a tougher question.  As a Board member or Advisor to a company, you can't jump in an run things, unless you are explicitly asked.  The company needs to stand on its own, and the company's management needs to make the final decisions.  You can give input, make suggestions, and provide strong debate, but you can't overrule the team.  About all I ask for in these instances is that they listen to me (if they don't want to do that, why have you as an advisor?).  If I'm heard, it doesn't matter as much if I'm heeded.  In fact, as a Board member, I prefer that management make their own decisions.  Then they can be held accountable if their decisions are wrong.

If you are an advisor or Board member and act very heavy-handed, you can probably convince management to do things your way.  But, you'd better be right.  If things don't work out when you have 'overruled' management, you can't really hold them accountable.  The dynamic I prefer is to start off trusting management's judgment.  If they do something I don't agree with, and it works out, then I've learned something.  If it doesn't work out, I lose some faith in their judgment.  If it happens a few times, then maybe the company needs new management.

Your approach also haas to be moderated depending on what the stakes are.  If the company is going to go over the cliff and its survival is threatened, then maybe a heavy handed approach is required.  And, replace the management for almost taking the company down with them!  But, most decisions don't have that level of impact.  You need to let the people closest to the situation make the decisions, and then measure them accordingly.

As my kids have grown up, I see parallels with parenting.  Every kid is different than their parents, and they make their own choices about how hard to work in school, pursuing job opportunities, and taking part in extra activities.  You can't make your kids act the way you would.  Just try to get them to listen to you and learn from your experience.  That can be a big enough challenge sometimes!  But, if they make a few mistakes and learn from them, they'll have a stronger foundation on which to succeed in the future.


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