Are You Mentoring for Decision Making?

Mentoring for Decision Making

Mentoring for Decision Making

I had a conversation recently with a colleague who shared an experience about his career. He took a high-level job in which he thought he would have the opportunity to lead and affect change.

His new boss, however, was unable – or unwilling – to grant him the authority to do that. His boss, something of a micromanager and control freak, involved himself in every decision.

My friend found himself being required to defer to his boss for every decision. If he wanted to hire someone, his boss required input on the decision, dictated the salary and often made the offer himself.

My friend soon found that he wasn’t the high-level executive he was hired to be. He was simply his boss’s puppet, hired to carry out orders and manage day-to-day situations.

It didn’t take long for my friend to move on to other opportunities.

What do you delegate?

It made me think about how important it is for managers at every level to mentor and coach their direct reports on decision making.  We all know the importance of delegation. Delegating tasks frees a manager up to do their own job.

It’s a critical leadership skill to know what gets delegated and what should be done by the manager. But delegation must be done.

A strong manager needs to be able to delegate decision making as well. If a manager does not trust his people to make decisions, and doesn’t allow them to hone their decision making skill, the entire company will suffer.

The direct reports will never develop their decision making skills. The executive will continue to be bogged down by being constantly involved in details and making every decision.

The long-term effects are even more serious. When competent direct reports are hired, they will expect to be given the authority to make decisions. When denied the opportunity, like my friend, they will move on.

When incompetent people are hired, and eventually denied the authority to make decisions, they will stay. The organization ends up with people who can’t – and won’t – make decisions. It creates a decision making vacuum at the top.

When they do make decisions…

Even in such an organization, the direct reports may eventually attempt to make decisions. How the executive deals with it is critical. An executive that requires involvement in every decision may respond in one of two approaches.

The executive may figure out a way to point out why the decision was a bad one. This accomplishes two things. It allows him to show the direct report that their decision making skills are not as good as his. It also causes the direct report to second-guess any future decision.

The alternate approach is for the executive to explicitly reprimand his employee and insist that he be involved in any decision. This, again results in the employee second-guessing any future decision.

Either of these options accomplishes what the executive wants: all decisions are deferred to the executive. The executive maintains control.

Mentoring for decision making

The alternative is to teach your team to make decisions. A strong executive delegates decision making. The general strategy and philosophy of the company should be shared with the team to provide a basis for the decision making.

When employees make bad decisions, they should be coached, but encouraged. Bad decisions are a learning opportunity for better future decisions.

When an employee makes a decision that is different from one the executive would make, give it time. It might just be a better decision.


Many people see decision making as a top-down practice. Mangers make decisions, underlings follow them through. In reality, decisions should be made at every level. An effective manager pushes decisions down to direct reports. Mentoring for decision making is a critical piece of making sure that future managers and executives are developed.

How effective are you at mentoring for decision making?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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