It's easy as the boss to think you're the 'decider' (as George W Bush described it), and need to be in control of everything.

But that can strangle the agency as it grows, and make it hard to retain the best talent.

When I started out, I was hopeless. Meddling in small decisions, and prevaricating painfully on the big ones.

But over the years I got better, learning a few key principles:

  1. As the boss, your job is not to decide, it's to decide who decides. Design your agency to be able to make decisions, and then don't meddle.
  2. Push decisions as close to the action as possible.
  3. Avoid committee decisions just as much as avoiding you making all the decisions. I advocate 'distributed benign dictatorship' — people all around the agency who are benign dictators of their area of control. It's clear who is in charge of what, and they are free to make decisions on their own as long as they consult others as part of their process.
  4. Be clear on the way you want decisions to be made. How to decide who to consult, who to keep informed, how that should be done, how to communicate to the wider agency, and so on. Do you value speed of progress or cautious safety more? Design a culture for how decisions should be made, with guiding principles, rather than a rulebook.
  5. People will still come to you for decisions that should be made elsewhere (often by themselves). Be careful to resist your immediate reaction to jump in and decide. Direct the decision back to how it should be made. If it's by them, ask them what they think should be done, then suggest that they make the decision. When you're ready to become the zen master of this, then restrict yourself to only asking good questions when people come to you for decisions.
  6. People will make decisions that are different to what you would do. That's fine, there are nearly always multiple right answers. They might even know better than you (this has happened to me oh-so-many times — seeing a decision being made, thinking I wouldn't do it like that, just about managing to resist meddling, then seeing absolutely astounding results my decision would never have led to). Don't meddle.
  7. Only intervene in a decision where the potential downside is very serious and irreversible. Stay out of meddling in potential mistakes where the downside is low or reversible. It's how people learn and grow.
  8. When a decision really has to be made by you, consult others. Seek dissenting views. Gather enough information to feel 70% comfortable about a probable best option. Getting to 100% certainty takes too long and wastes effort. Consider the downside, and mitigate it as part of your plan. Then just decide, and act on the decision.
  9. Delaying or not making a decision is a decision in itself, but with unclear outcomes. Far better to make a quicker active decision, even if you change your mind or it turns out to be wrong. Have a bias to action.
  10. Feel free to change your mind about a decision, as long as the reasoning behind the change is consistent with your approach and your agency's culture. Explain your change clearly. Change isn't bad from a leader, but inconsistency and randomness is.

One sense-check: If you were suddenly stranded on a desert island for the next 6 months without any contact with the outside world, how much would decision-making in your agency be disrupted, or even grind to a halt?

This week, think about how you can design the agency to make more decisions, rather than being the decider.

Have a great week,


P.S. One decision you should make is to have me as a Virtual Non-Exec, to get more in-depth insight and guidance to help you operate as a great CEO, strategic director, and be a happy agency owner. Decide this now and let's get started :)

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