49 - How to earn the freedom to make decisions

15-04-2023

decision-making

Early career can be a hard time. You’re hungry to create impact. But you get bogged down by ‘micromanagement’, or by having to influence without authority, or even burn yourself out in the process of trying to prove your worth.

It need not be like this. Here’s what I have learned.

Two elements, more than anything, contribute to our feeling of having made a difference and, by extension, work satisfaction. This is the ‘job strain’ model (Karasek, 1979).

Decision latitude, or the freedom to take work-related decisions

Psychological demand, or work pressure

Many early career folks believe, like I used to, that their first big success will earn them the space to make their own decisions. But earning your stripes does not automatically lead to decision latitude. Your boss, business priorities, nature of work–one or all of these may change.

It’s important then to learn to create decision latitude for yourself. Here’s a counterintuitive suggestion: Make your boss your ally. There are a number of reasons to do so, the most important being your boss’s success is in your success.

Framing the problem thus energizes you to find ways to make the existing arrangement work. Here are 5 ways you can go about creating decision latitude for yourself:

  • Know what is important to your boss (what’s her North Star),
  • Know how she wants accountability (how does your boss prefer being updated)
  • Know what competence she takes pride in (don’t pit against her on her turf; leverage that to improve the quality of your output),
  • Tell her what kind of autonomy is important to you (the most common ways are what to do and how to do, but what to do can be problematic*), and
  • Finally, ask better questions to break any deadlock (‘what would have to be true for us to go with the alternative?’)

A good way to kickstart this process is to make your own user manual where you capture all of this and more, and share it with your boss. It may even nudge your boss to reciprocate.

*Sometimes, you may face the inverse of this problem: your boss has given you too much latitude and you’re confused about what to do. As a first-time manager I was guilty of giving autonomy without direction. This can be disorienting for young workers. The onus is on you to bring it to your manager’s notice because it is possible she’ll be, just like I was, surprised that someone wants to give up autonomy.

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