Department: Leadership Q&A
Q I'm a new manager in a nondirect care area. Staff members frequently call me for guidance when a decision needs to be made, even after hours. What can I do to get them to make decisions on their own?
First, realize that your staff members don't know your style yet and you don't know theirs. Assess the situation to determine if the guidance being sought is to test your knowledge or whether staff members are fearful of making the wrong decision. There are several steps you can take to get your personal time back and develop your team.
You can start to turn the tide with four simple words: “What do you think?” This question will demonstrate that you respect your staff members' thoughts. When employees feel respected in the workplace, it enables them to feel confident in their decisions.1 Corresponding with asking their thoughts, delegate some decisions to your direct reports. This will demonstrate that you trust them. Recognize that the employee may not make the same decision or take the same action as you. Evaluate the results before commenting on or correcting the employee's actions. If you react too quickly without a thorough review, you'll lose your team's trust. After review, if your employee's decision/action didn't match that of prudent practice and organizational expectation, then you need to take other actions.
Next, work on developing your leadership style. Consider situational leadership, in which you assess each staff member's developmental or maturity level, from novice to expert, and provide the support that he or she needs to complete a task.2 Developmental levels are matched with leadership actions such as telling or directing, selling (coaching), participating (supporting), and delegating.3 If you ask a staff member to perform a task that he or she has never done before, you want him or her to know what to do to be successful. This calls for telling or directing. Use selling (coaching) when an employee is competent but has a low motivation level; you must “sell” the task to him or her. When you know that a staff member is very competent but his or her commitment is variable, you can be supportive through the task. For a seasoned employee who's committed to the task, you can delegate authority to him or her to make decisions and take actions.4,5
Using a model such as situational leadership will help you make better assignments for your staff members, which will result in increased trust and team growth. By matching up the employee's skill with the task, he or she will be more confident when making decisions, thus seeking less decision-making guidance from you. This process takes time but, ultimately, you'll motivate your team and keep them engaged.