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October 13, 2015 / alipeles

9. Avoid Asking for Permission

  • You get paid to make decisions
  • Unnecessary dependencies destroy value
  • Ask for permission only when unable to decide for yourself


Every once in while, a manager gets a loose cannon, the employee who must be kept on a short leash, hawk-like watched, accompanied to meetings, cleaned up after, and cringed over. But, far more common is the overcautious employee, who checks everything with the boss and let’s management call all of the shots.

When I first started running a team, I shied from making even small financial decisions on my own. An employee would ask, “Can we order a copy of that new book on CDOs?” or “Can we take the new joiner to lunch?”

“Let me get back to you,” I would say, buying time to run it by my boss.

Partly, I was at a complete loss for how such decisions were made in the company. But also, I was far too timid. What, I should have thought, was the downside of committing to buy a $50 book? If I were wrong, my boss would tell me not to do it again. In the worst case, I’d have to tell the employee that I made a mistake or just pay for the book myself. But, I’m reasonably sharp and the company demonstrated enough faith to put me in the position. I wasn’t going to go terribly wrong.

Managers of only a handful of people may find the time and breadth to weigh in on detailed decisions, but those with large responsibilities quickly learn that the path to success lies in trusting the right people and staying out of their way. Truly mature managers realize that they have to trust people whom they know for certain will make some mistakes. The importance of trusting one’s staff is so frequently missed that we have a label for those who never learn it: micromanager.

Employees create value every time they accomplish something without input from their managers. The trouble with micromanaging bosses is that they reach in and give employees input they don’t need, “helping” to accomplish what the employee already can.

No matter where you sit in the organization, you can do your part to limit this bad behavior by never being a micromanagee, i.e. someone who asks for non-value adding contributions. Before soliciting senior input, ask yourself whether you really need it. If you think you know the right answer but want to confirm, consider skipping the validation and just acting.

The worst case is that you make a mistake. If that’s what you fear, you’ll have to wait for my post on taking risks. Check this out in the meantime.

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