A few years ago, a large construction company was uneasy about having to change managers in the middle of an important project. They consulted me after they placed Jennifer in charge of developing the new financial controls system. I soon discovered that though she was familiar with the work plan and project definition, she was convinced that the venture was already a month behind schedule.
After warning the board of directors that the job would fall even further behind as Jennifer got up to speed, I advised them to grant her the authority to reset expectations and schedules. Only then could she take ownership of the project. Without exercising authority, Jennifer would never feel truly responsible.
It is not only in business that authority must be granted. Occasionally fathers and mothers also forget this lesson. Parents sometimes try to share a hobby that they nostalgically remember from their youth. However, they turn their child into a spectator rather than a participant when they make all the decisions themselves. When the child loses interest and abandons the project, the parent is disappointed.
It is appropriate for parents to expect children to participate in some of the household’s chores. The results are invariably best when some decision making power comes with the job.
Though it is hard for many to do, whether at work or in the family, it is vital to grant authority so that subordinates or one’s own children begin to assume responsibility. Without an opportunity to properly assume ownership of an undertaking, not only won’t people see the job through but they will also often resent otherwise wonderful opportunities.
For a compelling instance of this timeless truth, listen to Adam’s response to God’s challenge:
Adam could merely have responded, “The woman gave me from the tree and I ate.” God would have known which woman Adam meant; after all there was only one in existence. Why did Adam stress, “the woman whom you gave me”?
Ancient Jewish wisdom answers this perplexing question. As you can imagine, Adam was infatuated with Eve. Her arrival utterly transformed his life, filling it with passion and creativity. Yet, on some deep level which emerged during this crisis of disobedience, Adam resented not having a voice in choosing his life partner. This emerged in his words, “the woman whom YOU gave me.”
“This wasn’t the wife I chose for myself,” he is saying. “You made me marry her. So, what did you expect, God? Look what happened!”
Obeying our parents’ wishes is a big part of the Fifth Commandment. One exception, however, is if they try to tell us whom to marry. (It is a really good idea to heed parents or friends when they tell you whom NOT to marry!) The reason is that marriage is tough enough without having a spouse who hasn’t ‘bought-in’ or ‘taken ownership.’ There are too many challenging moments, particularly early in a marriage when one or both partners might silently say, “If only I hadn’t listened to my parents; they made me marry this person.” Every married individual needs to know that he or she made the decision freely to marry and therefore is responsible for that decision.
Whether in business or family, withholding authority stunts people’s growth, blocks achievement and is downright disrespectful. Both children and employees reach full potential when they are gradually granted increasing authority to match the increased responsibility they assume.