If you’ve ever stood with a group of people at a locked door, with everyone wondering, “Who has the key?” you’ve faced a classic leadership conundrum.
Because when there is fuzziness on the question, “Who holds the decision key on this?” entire organizations can grind to a halt.
This leadership principle hit me full in the face many years ago when our organization had partnered with a local church to present a leadership conference.
The schedule was set to go all day Friday and all day Saturday. But noticing that there was nothing scheduled on Friday evening, a leader from our partner church said we should program a concert for that timeslot.
And there we stood; standing at the door, not sure who held the decision key.
Ultimately I deferred and allowed our partner to program a concert for that evening. It turned out to be a disaster. It was very poorly planned and executed.
But the real learning happened Monday morning. The disaster that was this concert had absolutely no lasting impact on this church leader, nor his church. But I was digging myself out of this mess for weeks afterwards.
Because at the end of the day, the programming for the entire conference, including Friday evening, was my accountability. Not his.
And because I held the accountability, I held the decision key. But I gave it away, and paid for it dearly.
In short, here’s what I learned.
1. Always be clear who holds the decision key
Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.
2. You can’t share the key
As I’ve written before, there are no “team decisions”. One person makes the call, because one person is responsible.
3. Never give away the key
Just because someone demands the key is no reason to give it up.
4. Key-holders should be collaborative, but ultimately stand alone when making the call
At the end of the day, leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.
So take a lesson from my experience.
Because when you know you hold the decision making key, leadership doors start to open.
How do you determine who makes the call?