I was once part of a group of friends with A and B. Somewhere along the line, my relationship with B became strained. Eventually, it got to a place that was unhealthy. I let it continue as long as I could to maintain a friendship with A, but eventually the cost was too high.
I realize now there were many things I could have done, but only one I did do. I slowly began to back away from both relationships. My intent was positive – I wanted to make sure I did not impact A’s friendship with B. So I suffered the loss of A in silence.
It took me a while, but eventually I figured out I was being an idiot. A well-meaning idiot, but an idiot all the same. So, I decided to do something about it. We were all adults – why not let her be one and decide for herself, instead of me deciding for her?
Eventually, I went to A and explained I could not have relationship with B, but could support A and B remaining friends. I gave HER the choice and said I would understand if it would be too awkward to continue being friends with both of us.
No matter the result, this was a much better approach than my original attempt at “doing the right thing.” I would be disappointed if A decided we could not be friends, but I could live with it, knowing it was her choice. A was happier, because she could decide for herself what she wanted to do.
Why tell this convoluted tale of friends made and lost? Because well-meaning decision-making on someone else’s behalf is not a new thing. It’s not new to me, and it’s not new to others.
As a leader, how often have you decided something for someone else, thinking you were doing the right thing?
The overworked employee couldn’t possibly be interested in volunteering for a special assignment. Turns out, however, that his work is feeling a little monotonous and he wonders if the days ahead will be more of the same. That assignment may have given him renewed energy and motivation to do his current work and more.
The supervisor, who is so critical on her current project, can’t be spared for that new role. We’ll just push hard for the next opportunity that comes up. Except we’re not the only ones who see her potential. She takes another job because she doesn’t see the path in her current position.
When you make decisions for someone else, even if you are trying to do the right thing for the person and/or the organization, the result may be something you don’t intend.
Allowing your team to make their own choices, even if they are not the choices you would make, empowers them. They are vested in their own decisions. They are less likely to be vested in yours.
The next time an opportunity presents itself and you think “he’s already so busy…” “but I really need her on this other project…” or “I just don’t think the timing is right” – STOP. Ask yourself “what would be the harm in letting her decide?” Then ask yourself “what could be the harm if I DON’T let her decide?”
Have you ever ended up regretting a decision you’ve made for someone else, thinking you were doing the right thing? I’d love to hear from you in the comments to keep the conversation going.