The 3 Critical Questions That Free You Up to Stop Managing

These three questions, along with The 50% Rule, will free up your time and get you off the management treadmill.

In a July 2014 Inc. article I made this statement, which I’ve used for a long time:

The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader should make.

In the comments section, mserra65 said, “I’d like to know what those few decisions are!” It’s a great question that deserves an answer.


What Are the Few Decisions A Leader Should Make?

Leaders will relentlessly pursue taking themselves out of the equation, and instead build a culture that engages other people to make decisions. Ricardo Semler is perhaps the greatest modern example of a business leader. He is materially involved every day in a billion dollar corporation of which he is the majority owner. But Semler celebrated his 10th anniversary of not making a decision—eleven years ago. That’s tremendous leadership.

Ask Three Questions

Here are three questions that can help you move from:
– manager (solving and deciding) to
– leader (training others to solve and decide)

1. Before making a decision, ask yourself, “Is this the highest and best use of my time?” There are so many people who could decide better if we just stopped deciding for them. Train others to decide, and then get out of the way as fast as you can. And with your free time, go do something that no one else can do. You’d be surprised how useful you could be by getting out of the way.

2. Before deciding, ask yourself, “Who is responsible to actually carry out this decision?” Give them the decision to make. If they don’t know how to decide, don’t do it for them; train them to do it, then get out of the way.
Those who are most involved in carrying out the decision have the most at stake and will almost always make a better decision than “the boss”. Discuss with them the required result and the resources available to accomplish it, and then let them figure what is needed to get it done. They will own the decision and if something goes wrong, they will fix it instead of blaming you.

3. If the first two questions don’t get you out of the way, ask yourself, “Who else will be impacted by this decision?” Some people aren’t directly involved in carrying out a decision, but will definitely be impacted by the decision, and how it is implemented. Give them a voice. They may not make the decision, but their input could be invaluable in arriving at the right one.

The Leader’s Goal For Others: Creating Ownership

When you solve and decide, all that is left is to delegate the task. But when you train others to solve and decide, you are delegating responsibility. This is critical because when we delegate tasks, people feel used (“put that nut on that bolt”). But when we delegate responsibility (“make a great washing machine”), people take ownership, and that is the most powerful motivator in business. Giving people their brains back and unleashing them to make decisions is key to them taking ownership, and the key to moving you from manager to leader.

The Leader’s Goal For Themselves: The 50% Rule

A great in-the-trenches metric to know you’re leading is The 50% Rule. I encourage every leader to eventually have 50% of their time unscheduled, and unavailable to be pulled into a crisis. The second part of that is key, otherwise your time is scheduled by crises. Even owners of very small businesses need to aspire to this because it is the key to them getting off the treadmill.

A Day a Week, a Week a Month, a Month a Year

The result? I have nothing scheduled on Mondays or Fridays, and have the last week of every month with nothing on the schedule. And I have a month a year to goof off or envision the future, usually a combination of both. That is 75% of the work year where I’m not in a position to make a decision that others could make better than me. This year I didn’t take the month off, which put me down to only 63% out-of-the-way. Next year we’re heading to Italy for a month.

I’m no Ricardo Semler yet, but I do have it as my goal to regularly not make decisions. What do I do instead? Ask questions, create vision, train, be creative, innovate, guide, make others successful, serve—in other words, lead.

Commit To These Three Questions

Management (solving and deciding) is a tiring treadmill. Leading (training others to solve and decide) is freeing and therefore, invigorating. Do you want to enjoy your business and focus on that which is the highest and best use of your time? Use these three questions every day to train others to solve and decide, and then get out of the way.

That’s leadership.

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