Make it your call
One of the most interesting observations I’ve made watching how people behave in their work environment is the difference between how people handle problems when they’re alone, and how they handle problems when their boss is within earshot (or “pingshot”, a term I’m going to go ahead and coin for remote people).
When the boss is around and we’re confronted with ambiguity, we often stand up from our desks, walk over to their office, and try and get an authoritative answer. An answer we can take action on, yes, but most importantly we seek this answer because we feel like we’re not responsible for the consequences. After all, the boss made the call, not you.
When we’re alone and we’re faced with a difficult choice though, it’s a little different. We look over to the boss’s office door, and notice they’re out on a lunch break. Next we glance at the clock, and it’s clear we’re going to have to deal with this before you have the opportunity to get someone else to take responsibility.
So you think about the problem in front of you, you focus your attention on the tricky bits, on spotting the ambiguity, and you eventually come up with a way that allows you to move forward. Sure, you might feel compelled to check whether your boss things you made the right call after the fact, but there’s no mistaking it: you just took responsibility.
As humans, we like other people to be on the hook. As leaders, we need to create environments where people do the opposite, and make it their call. When we can do that in a systematic way, you’re increating your team’s autonomy, and that’s far more valuable than the reassurance that someone else is on the hook.
Go make something your call.