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Empowerment Run Amok: How One Bad Decision Leads To Another

by | Nov 5, 2012 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

You believe in servant leadership.

Empowerment is your middle name.

Results are strong.

The team is happy.

And then.

Someone makes a really bad decision.

The consequences are big.

Your boss is not happy.

How could YOU let that happen?

Why weren’t YOU more involved?
And you begin to wonder about the person who made the poor choice.

  • Why did he make such a bad decision?
  • Didn’t he understand the potential consequences?
  • Why didn’t he ask for help?
  • Why was I not informed sooner

It might be hard but stop, and think well before reacting.

If you are not careful, the next bad decision may be your own.

How you react now, matters. Everyone is watching your next move. Do you really believe in empowerment?

The decision you make next will have long-term implications on trust and the relationship with your entire team. People are talking, texting and instant messaging count on it.

3 Steps to Responding Well to a Bad Decision

1. Temper and Reflect

  • Have I carefully considered my approach to empowerment– Who to empower with what decisions and why?
  • Have I clearly communicated the big picture and long-term goals?
  • Have I taught effective decision-making?
  • Have I explained the importance of my involvement in certain kinds of decisions?
  • Am I approachable and available to support?
  • Have I been teaching enough about the political landscape and how to include and inform stakeholders?
  • … what would you add?

2. Take Accountability

  • Own the mistake, never blame
  • Roll up your sleeves and be involved in the fix
  • Involve the employee in the solution
  • Coach in private
  • Carefully consider the answers to the questions above, what do you need to adjust?
  • Communicate any changes without linking back to a specific employee’s mistake
  • … what would you add?

3. Teach

  • Ask questions for self-discovery
  • Share a story of when you screwed up and what you learned
  • Reassure the employee that this can be fixed most things can, even when they look grim
  • … what would you add?


Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    You’ve covered it all. I think the most important is be careful how you react. You’re correctamundo that everyone is watching you. Followers will be paying careful attention on how you rectify the situation. The way you react under a stressful situation has more impact than how you look during a happy one.

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Steve, Thanks for always adding to the conversation. Your experience as a coach in this arena is very valuable.

  3. Eric

    Karin, This is so valuable- thank you for sharing your process in this critical situation!
    One question I reflect on is: “Did I build in the right checkpoints?” Here’s why: What I communicate and what is received is not necessarily (read: rarely) the same thing. This lets us re-sync so we can course correct before there is a problem. The other reason: You are not me. I would do it one way, so that is the vision I have in my head- what I expect. If I’m empowering, I need to be open to your way and the contribution you bring that is different from mine. By checking-in we can be sure the key elements are in place, and give you the freedom to put your personal stamp on the other pieces.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Eric, thank you so much for adding that important point. Yes check-ins can be so vital. I have had times when I have not done this enough and regretted it. I hope you will conttinue to join in the dialogue… your points are so helpful.

  4. Helen

    Hi Karin, I am a reader from Australia, and I wanted to echo so many previous sentiments posted here and say – so many of your posts have such value, this one included.

    I am particularly enjoying your weekend leadership series for kids.

    Many thanks

    • letsgrowleaders

      Helen, your comment means so much to me…. thank you! It is inspiring to know that this is helpful. I truly appreciate you taking the time to say that. If there are any particular topics that would be useful to you, please let me know. Namaste.

  5. Clive Turner

    This is a great article. In my experience though, the leaders are not always the managers at the top.
    Interpreting this article as a lower-level leader, when an empowered higher level manager makes a poor decision is just as if not more relevant.
    So often, I hear of businesses hiring experts into their business and then going on to ignore their expertise. There are so many more of these lower-level leaders who are busy growing, and who will one day be The Leader.

    My take is this: Turn this advice around to the employee-leader, and it becomes far more powerful!

    E.g. 1 Temper and Reflect:
    . Have I considered how I’ve been empowered, and how I have empowered my manager with my decisions (e.g. by the way I decided to keep her informed and involved).
    …and so on. Take a measure of trust. When trust is high, it doesn’t matter what goes wrong because everyone is involved in sorting it out, without blame.
    When trust is low, no-one wants to be involved in sorting it out, and someone is given the blame.
    I belive trust is directly related to true empowerment, and is the only appropriate measure that empowerment is genuine and reciprocal.

    Kind regards


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