“If you’re not clear who is supposed to be holding the decision key, things will get very fuzzy, very fast.”
That piece of leadership insight from a trusted mentor has helped me navigate some tricky leadership waters for many years.
Because when it comes to making important leadership decisions, it’s all about knowing who is holding the key.
Several years ago our organization had partnered with another organization 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 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 had absolutely no lasting impact on our partner. 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 key, leadership doors start to open.