No decision making authority, but all the accountability.

Let’s all take a little truth serum: as a senior executive, have you or your company created an environment where your operators and/or team leaders would agree with the headline above? 

If yes, whether you got there intentionally or not, consider a few of the potential long-term implications: stymied innovation, lack of commitment, less effort and lower productivity.  

Now then, if we’re after real accountability and ownership of an outcome, allowing decision-making by those who are responsible for execution is a critical part of the equation. 

The bedrock in all of this boils down to one thing: trust. Higher performing companies and teams have it. Trust is the kind of asset that can accelerate speed, as well as efficiency, throughout an organization.  

It’s why former Tribune President Larry Wert bought The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey for his executive team and required the use of the best practices in the book … and why JDA founder Jim Doyle has been known to say: Beware of command and control type leadership!

I recently found an interesting article on  that captured just that essence for the here and now:

Even high-trust leaders can revert to bad habits in a crisis, when uncertainty seems to justify more of a ‘command-and-control’ style. But this approach creates the opposite effect by denying people the trust and opportunity to rise to the occasion.

Leaders today should be embracing trust, and deliberately extending it to their teams, because the currency of trust is the single most important asset they have.

That’s truer now than ever as companies navigate a drastically changed economic outlook and a highly uncertain future—and they need inspired and trusted employees to help them do it.”

As our industry navigates the future, I am concerned that just because every dollar and decision can be managed, and/or dictated by senior leadership, does that mean it should? And, in the process, does trust become a casualty?

From the Harvard Business Review, as well as my own experiences and observations, here are some questions we might ask ourselves to help determine the direction we’re taking our companies:

Do I give my leaders an appropriate amount of influence over the things that affect them most on the job?

What decisions can be made at the line leadership level, beyond simply who is hired?

Do I, or senior leadership, override decisions after giving an individual or group the responsibility for making it? 

Do I encourage my leaders to take risks? And how do I show trust in my team leaders?  

If any answers came up short, the good news is there are plenty of examples of companies and teams that have pivoted their way to success on this very issue.

A couple of years ago, I was exposed to a company with a reputation of a poor internal sales culture, little trust, and much top down. Yet today this same company has ushered in an era of autonomy and trust with new leadership in place.

The result has been stronger performance, ownership of outcomes at the local level, more innovation, and an ease of recruitment challenges. 

That situation reminds me that nothing is permanent: great companies can lose their way, and others can find their way. 

As we build for the future, remember to look in the mirror and assess the level of trust embedded in your organizational structure. Empowering our leadership is critical for long-term health. 










At JDA, we’re having fruitful conversations with senior media leaders across the country around driving revenue, sales leadership and marketing best practices. If I can be a sounding board for you or your company, please reach out to

Share This