Leaders sometimes hesitate to grant more autonomy because they worry that their team members aren’t capable of making those decisions. Certainly, it would be foolish and unkind to expect them to be able to do something they’re not able to. I’ve even heard some leaders use this as a reason they can’t delegate a decision.

Rather than viewing this as a barrier to autonomy, we can see it the role of leaders to foster the growth of their team members’ knowledge and abilities, enabling them to make effective decisions down the road.

Good news: there’s a process you can use to grow this decision-making capability in others!

How to Start – Transparency

Start by identifying a decision that you’re currently making for the team. Consider what inputs you use, the risks you take into account, and your decision-making process. Next time you make the decision, describe these elements to the team so they understand why you made the decision and give them an open invitation to ask questions so they can understand your approach. You are starting to train them how to think about the decision.

Mentoring to Grow

Shifting into a mentorship stance, you can invite input from the team as you make the decision the next time. This is an opportunity for them to see you working through the decision in real-time – externalize the thoughts that are running through your head so they can hear them.

Creating an open atmosphere is key to learning so team members can ask questions about your how you’re investigating and deciding. Be sure to thank people who speak up and ask questions, even when you’re struggling with the challenge or how they posed the question. As they’re asking questions, you can gauge how they’re digesting the decision and discover focus areas where they need more help.

As you see the team growing, shift to making the decision together with the team, inviting them from the sidelines into the decision-making with you. This phase is the “fulcrum” of the process, where you gain confidence in their decision-making capabilities as you all collaborate.

The Shift to Delegation

By this point, the team has been through the decision process with you several times and you’re ready to ask them to make the decision. But you’re staying nearby – the team needs your input before they make the decision. Give them an opportunity to ask you questions and get your input, and then you can inquire about their inputs, the risks they considered, and their decision-making process.

You’re setting a pattern for future decisions, creating clear guidelines and a transparent system for the team to seek your input, support, and feedback.


Growing autonomy is a leader’s job, and there’s a process to do it. Remember that teaching others how to make effective decisions in specific situations is an ongoing process. Patience and persistence will be your allies in nurturing autonomy over time.

In the future, let’s explore an important aspect of delegation: when it’s appropriate to delegate, and how much to delegate.


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