As the leader, we make things happen through effective teams. Decentralized execution at its core depends on team members that can act and react without your immediate presence or guidance on tactical matters.

A crucial part of “making things happen” is communication, an ever-present challenge for a leader. Team guidance must be clear enough to encourage disciplined initiative, yet not go so far that it stifles innovation and approaches micromanagement. How do we communicate goals while creating a culture that enables trust, empowerment, and permission to be less than 100% successful?

Decentralized execution requires certain key concepts. The level of achievement of these concepts will directly impact your ability to make things happen.

  1. Give your employees every opportunity to gain relevant experience. Training can help, but there is simply no substitute for real-world “time in the seat.” This experience leads to competence and credibility, and credibility breeds freedom to maneuver.
  2. We must have confidence in our teams. We go out on a limb when we delegate to them. It’s an act of trust.  
  3. Managers delegate tasks; leaders delegate authority. However, responsibility always remains with the leader. This is important to remember as you lead and as you follow.
  4. Clear boundaries must be established. This includes a clear explanation of the limits of delegated authority. Without clear fences, your team may be uncertain whether a decision is theirs or yours. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. Ask yourself if you have clearly communicated the boundaries that exist in their environment. As you follow, proactively ask the boss where the boundaries are.
  5. Encourage a safe environment for innovation. Setbacks are a crucial part of our learning experience. Create an environment that encourages freedom of movement within established boundaries. When you delegate, accept that it most likely won’t be done exactly the way you would have done it. Disciplined initiative is your goal.
  6. Do everything you can to ensure your team understands their environment and the players that affect and contribute to the process. Intentionally recognize the interconnectedness between organizational divisions. Your team must consider the internal and external impact and second-order effects of their actions.
  7. Without an effective flow of communication, your team efforts are doomed. If you must err, do it on the side of overcommunication. Always assume you haven’t communicated enough and encourage this at every opportunity.
  8. Without risk, there is no reward, and effective risk management will always be a part of successful leadership. As leaders and followers, we must clearly communicate our assumed risks. Followers must understand that the leader assumes the aggregate of each team member’s individual risk.

There is so much that could be written about decentralized execution—AKA delegation. Keep these thoughts top of mind.

Finally, always remember that the leader gets the culture and behaviors that are actively created and passively allowed. As leaders, we “make things happen” through others, and decentralized execution is one of those behaviors you must actively create with your team.

I’ll close with a quote from Lord Horatio Nelson, Admiral of the British Fleet and a revered national hero for his victories at the Nile and Cape Trafalgar over 200 years ago. His guidance made decentralized execution very clear to the British Fleet: “When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive, I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or understood, no Captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”