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Sharing intent vs asking permission
An interaction pattern that builds high agency within guardrails.
So many people feel stuck: they want to move fast and make progress, but they're afraid of making the wrong call or doing something their leadership would disapprove of.
Most people tend to slow down and ask for permission here. They seek guidance and approval from whoever they report to. This is frustrating over time.
Yet good leaders want their people to make decisions, show high agency, and drive progress—without the leadership becoming a bottleneck. This is the core idea of pushing authority closer to the work itself.
Yet everyone keeps checking in with the manager. Nobody will "take the ball and run with it." This is also frustrating over time!
In this pattern, both sides end up frustrated, yet want the same thing: good results, achieved with high autonomy. But it's not happening. What gives?
A key enabling factor is the leaders sharing their context so that the people closest to the work have the information they need to make a good decision. As I wrote recently, "if product teams don't share the context held by company leaders, they won't make decisions company leaders will back."
So what can people do instead of asking for permission? Without new behaviors to practice, we fall back to our defaults.
Rather than waiting and asking permission, share what you plan to do. Then the manager/leader can just say "sounds good!,” or they can intervene or work with you to adjust your plan if needed.
This is a small change that begins a very different stance toward your work. This interaction pattern does three things for the team:
(1) Allows everyone to take ownership of their scope and make things happen, while still giving leadership a chance to intervene or adjust course if needed.
(2) Promotes a culture of high agency within bounded autonomy, i.e. autonomy within guardrails.
(3) Makes progress the default rather than stasis. It's easier to adjust course than get something moving in the first place.
Note: this is a general guideline for most decisions (i.e. 2-way doors). This doesn’t apply to high-risk, 1-way door type decisions. Leaders, if you introduce this pattern to your team, be explicit about the decisions you reserve for yourself or where you *must* give approval prior to the team moving forward.
(This stance and approach is 100% based on the model of intent-based leadership from my favorite leadership book, "Turn the Ship Around" by David Marquet. Please read it.)