Leave Decisions to your Team

By | December 16, 2020

[December 16, 2020]  “Make only important decisions.”  So began my first mentoring sessions by one of the most respected sergeants in the U.S. Army.  I was a new, inexperienced Second Lieutenant; he was battle-tested, senior career NCO.  “Doing so will give your team the power to carry out your orders.”

He was originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and had grown up in the turmoil of the times.  Sergeant First Class Doolin O’Conner (you can’t get more Irish than that) was a man’s man and took no gruff off anybody.  Maybe it was his time on the streets in Northern Ireland or his strict Catholic upbringing.

SFC O’Conner was destined to be a soldier.  I respected the man for this.  His advice was like gold.  The advice was rarely given but precious for those in possession of it.   The Irish surname O’Conner has its meaning in antiquity.  Common interpretations say it stands for Patron of Warriors.  He was proud of it.

There is always a balance between creating structure in an organization like the military and giving individuals freedom of action in that organization.  O’Conner, with his practical experience, would tell me of the importance to make only those decisions I had to make.  “Leave all other decisions to us.

When soldiers have control over their decisions, they have greater ownership.  And, greater ownership makes them feel as if they are in control.  It was difficult for me to let go of so many decisions.  It wasn’t that I did not trust my men to make the right decision, like me; it was just that leaders naturally want to be in on everything that happens.  Alas, decision-making is not so easy.

Leaving decisions to my soldiers was difficult.  I had already been accused of micro-managing my team.  I’d given too much detail in my orders, had been focusing on unimportant details, and spent a lot of time around my men and their equipment.  I wanted them to be the very best Platoon.  What I didn’t realize was that I was sapping their morale and creating an unwelcome environment.

By backing away and tasking my Platoon’s squad leaders with missions, things began to improve.  I started by telling them ‘what’ needed to be done and leaving out the ‘how.’  I left my door open for anyone to see me anytime.  It was then that I was beginning to know the meaning of Sergeant O’Conners’ “Make only important decisions.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “Leave Decisions to your Team

  1. Wilma Red

    Another excellent, educational, and entertaining article from the desk of Gen. Satterfield.

  2. Eric Coda

    “When soldiers have control over their decisions, they have greater ownership. ” This quote pretty much sums up what I got from Gen. Satterfield’s blog today. Ownership means they are vested in the outcome. Look, this means taking responsibility in another way.

    1. Darryl Sitterly

      Excellent point Eric. Yes, let’s not overlook the motivation factor.

  3. Orange Man

    There is a delicate balance that is not always easy to “see” or to “feel” that allows us to make the right choices. Your article on Leaving Decisions to your Team is correct. But it should go a bit further and explain what the next several steps are. Overall, a really good piece of advice here, Gen. Satterfield.

  4. Greg Heyman

    Spot-on article. Thank you so much Gen. Satterfield. This is the kind of blog post I like to read. Keep ’em coming our way.

  5. June Cleaver

    When to make a decision or if to make a decision is part of the art of leadership. I figured this out long ago. To be a leader you’ve got to be “with it.” I’ve witnessed some really bad leaders in my lifetime that couldn’t get this right. Prediction ….. Sleepy, Creepy, Commie Joe Biden will go down in history as the worst president ever.

    1. Richard “Dick” Jameson

      June, you are da girl. No insult intended, of course!

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    This Sergeant O’Conner must have been a very interesting dude (I mean NCO). You learned a lot from him, I see, and is why you brought him up. Just like the Sgt from Basic combat Training you’ve mentioned in the past. Those men who helped make you better should be remembered.

  7. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, you made my day. Once again, you picked out an important leader topic and gave it life.

  8. Max Foster

    “So began my first mentoring sessions by one of the most respected sergeants in the U.S. Army.” You were indeed fortunate. I would say lucky but the decision you made, Gen. Satterfield, to enter the Army with a college degree thru ROTC (got that info earlier) showed that your decision was thought-out and not random. That is why folks say incorrectly that others like you who have done well are privileged. It was NOT an accident of birth or race or gender but of methodical decision-making with a singular purpose in mind and done so over a period of years.

    1. Karl J.

      Good point Max and well said, as well. I’m glad you brought up the idea of privilege. Most of us envision privilege as some young girl from a rich family shopping for clothes at a high-end store. She gets an advantage over others. But I don’t see that in those who join the US military.

  9. Kenny Foster

    Great comments here so far on this article but I must add my two cents worth. I suggest, as part of my experience, that all of us spend a little more time going back and re-reading some of Gen. S’s previous articles on ‘leadership.’ That way, this article is better understood in context. I specifically recommend those articles on “how to be a leader.” Most of them are there for easy searching using this site’s search feature. Thanks all. If I don’t get a chance later, Merry Christmas!

    1. Linux Man

      Thank you Kenny and Merry Christmas to you also.
      … and Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends as well.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Linus Man, good to read your Happy Hanukkah comment. It’s been Hanukkah for several days now and you are the first to mention it.
        😊

    2. JT Patterson

      Kenny, hey, we are long-standing bloggers here in Gen. Satterfield’s forum and can see for our selves that being informed means reading and studying the past. I agree with you that new folks here would do themselves a favor by going back and reading some of the older articles from Gen. Satterfield.

  10. Wendy Holmes

    Make only important decisions.
    Best advice for a leader I’ve read outside this blog in a long time.

  11. Stacey Borden

    You certainly ran into a lot of great soldiers during your time in the army. Gen. Satterfield, thanks for sharing those experiences with us. They make us better and allow us to connect an idea with a story that is easier to remember.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Yes, that is how I best remember ideas as well. It should come, then, as no surprise that the Bible (called the best psychology text ever by Gen. Satterfield) is all about stories. Sometimes the meaning gets lost in the story but that is why we have mature folks helping us.

  12. Randy Goodman

    Good article and good advice, especially for new leaders.

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