Afraid of Mistakes When Delegating Work to Others? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I’ve been managing a couple of teams located around the globe. Recently, our business has exploded, and I find that I am losing control of things. My question is: how do I help my people clarify when they need to include me in big decisions and when they don’t? I’ve never had this issue in the past—but we are doing so much and things are moving so fast. I need to find another way, because mistakes are being made and I am held responsible. I really don’t want to make anyone feel bad or demotivated. I actually appreciate that people are taking things into their own hands—until of course, they mess up.

I’ve never had any management training, but I assume people who do learn how to deal with this kind of thing. Any ideas?

Big Mistakes


Dear Big Mistakes,

I wouldn’t worry about training; you seem to be doing awfully well on your own. At least you have the right mindset—which, frankly, no amount of training can shift for some people. And at least the problem you are grappling with is a good problem to have. Nothing succeeds like success!

I know of three concepts/models that might be helpful to you here. One is our time-tested, research-based flagship model, SLII®. Essentially, it helps managers and direct reports break down all goals and tasks, diagnose the competence and confidence of the employee in relation to each task, and then identify exactly what kind of leadership style is needed. You can access a cool e-book about it here.

Things have changed in the last few months. If people are making bad decisions, it’s because they are doing new tasks that they aren’t competent enough to fly solo with. That’s all. They are perfectly able to develop their competence, but first they need clear direction from you as well as some practice that you can supervise at critical stages. Ultimately, you will be able to trust them to have good judgment. So first read up on the model, then get super clear about where people are making mistakes and what is new about those instances. When you have conversations, you can own that you hadn’t given clear direction before and you wouldn’t expect a person to know something you had never told them. That way, you aren’t criticizing—you are simply correcting your own oversight while creating an environment in which the commitment is to transfer the capability for the future. It is good for them, and it frees you up.

Another concept, which I wrote about recently in this column, is Waterline. I learned this concept from W.L. Gore & Associates, where it is a company value. Your people need to know in no uncertain terms where their decision-making authority ends and when they need to consult you or others. If they understand the big picture well enough, they can assess the risk of each decision and know when the consequences of a mistake will be unacceptable.

The last model you may find useful is the RACI Chart. The RACI Chart, sometimes called a matrix, is used in project management for complex operations such as software design—but it is also good to use when working to create something new as a group. If you are growing in leaps and bounds, this is a great way to create clear agreements about exactly who is doing what and who they need to involve, consult, or work with. Once again, it’s up to you to gain clarity on all tasks and who is responsible for executing on the actions to achieve them. You also know who they need to consult with and gain input from on the plan, and who ultimately is accountable for making sure things are done correctly and according to timeline. You probably did this intuitively before, but didn’t have a chance to revisit everything as things began to change.

Since it seems like you generally trust your people and care about making them feel appreciated, no one will mind your pushing for increased clarity. Nobody wants to make mistakes—it is embarrassing! You can be crystal clear about decisions that need to be run by you as you develop your people and eventually empower them to make decisions on their own. In the end, you will have much stronger people and be able to grow that much faster.

Let me know which model is most useful to you.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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