Refuse to Rule

One of the most powerful things the Supreme Court does is decline to hear a case. Their decisions set a precedent. If the precedent is too great a risk they don't take the case. They refuse to rule.

This is also one of the most powerful tools in the toolkit of great leaders. When teams come and ask for decisions my first consideration is a whether I should weigh in at all. Often I am not in a position to provide better guidance. In such cases, I may refuse to rule.

I don't send the team away empty handed. Sometimes I provide procedural feedback about how I might approach the problem. I may even provide the criteria I would use to evaluate possible solutions. But I try to be humble about my ability to help and respectful of their ability to help themselves.

Making decisions for teams can cause people to become dependent on you. Learned helplessness creates a bottleneck for execution. It also has insidious impact on how much teams feel responsible for their work.

Some teams have what they need, but are afraid to take responsibility for the outcome in the face of risk. They would prefer to get sign off from someone else in case things fail. One way to help is to create a culture that encourages risk taking. Another way to help is to refuse to indulge risk transfer. Over time teams learn to take responsibility for themselves.