You are working on a website and it strikes you that a certain colour combination would look great. You call up the chief designer and she says, no stick to the colours in the spec. You have just spoken to a client who has sent an image to replace a logo at the top of each screen. The specs have already been locked down, but you find the logo to be much more effective so you make the change. When the chief designer comes the next day you show the changes and apologize for acting on your own judgement.
When we seek permission, we are playing it safe. But how safe are we really? We shouldn’t of course make decisions that put the company at risk or that we know will get us in trouble. However, when we are constantly seeking permission on small things, or worse yet waiting for permission, work gets unnecessarily delayed and we increase the burden on those we are answerable to. People also tend to be more conservative in giving us permission because they don’t see our situation as we see it. We may feel we are being good boys or good girls by seeking permission, but when we are unwilling to make decisions on our own, we risk becoming a pest. People want to get rid of pests, so by constantly seeking permission we are just as likely endangering our position as securing it.
When we do things based on our own judgement, we risk making a decision that the powers that be are not happy with. However, for our one misjudgement we make nine decisions that are effective and we show our ability to handle responsibility. Leaders are not looking for robots but for people that can make decisions, as that frees them up to get on with the business of leading. The idea that the people above us possess the knowledge and our duty is to follow their instructions is simply wrong. The people who run the show have a knowledge gap. We fill the knowledge gap by using our eyes, ears and best judgment. At first it will not be clear exactly how far we can go in making our own decisions. But it is only by trying and failing that we will begin to define our area of expertise. The idea that we can play it safe is a nice illusion, but dissatisfying in the end.