Stop Giving Your Team Permission

Instead, build an environment that enables real responsibility and growth

Alex Jones
Published in
6 min readMar 13, 2019


Photo: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

EEffective managers trust their teams, delegating as many decisions as possible to the people closest to the work. This frees us up to spend our energy on shaping the team and addressing critical business challenges. But it isn’t particularly clear how to do this well.

Management books and leadership coaches exhort us to “give people permission to act” or “give people permission to fail.” Those statements sound good, and they’re well-intentioned, but giving permission is not leadership; it’s simply a different way to wield authority while maintaining control.

Passive permission doesn’t drive action

Giving permission isn’t good enough — you must craft an environment in which teams and individuals are fully empowered to act. Or, even better, they’re expected to act.

But what if they make the wrong decision? Yep, that’ll happen. Failure is a real possibility. But then again, making all the right choices doesn’t guarantee success in a competitive environment.

Telling people that they have permission means that they still derive all of their authority from you. They aren’t empowered; they’re merely borrowing your power. And that’s not good enough.

Pro tip: Give people a bit more responsibility than you’re comfortable with. You’ll be pleasantly surprised more often than not.

We as leaders are accountable for the decisions of our teams. But the people on our teams should have the right to make some of the hard calls, lay out their choices, and defend the paths they choose.

In fact, it should be expected that they make hard calls. They shouldn’t do it in a vacuum (that’s where we come in). But their responsibility includes knowing how and when to use the resources, knowledge, and energy of everyone at hand. But they get to make the call.

It can be scary, especially if you see failure looming, but we should try to step in only if the wrong decision will result in a catastrophic mistake. And the truth is, most wrong choices will never be anywhere close to that point. A bad choice will be a little painful…



Alex Jones
Writer for

I lead multi-disciplinary, globally distributed teams that craft remarkable products for millions of people. I start fires (the good kind).