When to give your employees freedom and when to firmly lead the way?

People managers can easily get this wrong, and overdoing any of them does bad for team performance and morale.

A good balance builds a sense of ownership in your team, while giving them certainty about the moments when it's important to stand behind you. And it comes with benefits for you too - less workload and more efficiency in getting everyone on board when it matters.

Here are some situations when authority comes first:

Inefficient initiatives - your team's ideas can be good, but they might cost too much, add no business value or lose your focus. It's your job to keep people and projects on course, just as much as creating space for creativity.

Setting targets and deadlines - clearly communicating what results you expect and by when, is important for your employees just as much as it is for you. It gives them a sense of certainty and an easy way to evaluate themselves.

Crisis situations - an imperfect choice is better than no choice in moments when time is of the essence and there's a risk for immediate damages.

Toxic employees - some people are harming your team more than helping it. Giving them clear feedback in order to improve their behavior, or terminating them in more serious cases, is the best you can do for the rest of your team.

But your team should also get a lot of autonomy in many cases:

Task ownership - within some ground rules, you can easily give your team the freedom to complete tasks their own way. It gives them a sense of responsibility and confidence that will take work off your hands on the long run.

New responsibilities - when a team member gets a promotion or has to learn something new, give them space to adjust and settle in their new role, even if it comes with some mistakes for a while.

Collaboration - in order to get things done, your team members might want to engage the help of other people, from other departments or that have different perspectives. Let them find the best way to get answers.

Choosing projects - whenever possible, give people the chance to choose their work and follow their learning interests. It can keep them around longer and increase their productivity.


Giving your team members space to grow, take ownership and choose, will increase their satisfaction, but also your authority.

If you intervene only in situations that are really important and people see this, it's easier to be trusted and move fast when it matters to rally people behind you.