Tim Ferriss, famous for the idea of the 4-Hour Work Week was working his life away selling a cognitive performance enhancing drug and wanted to start taking away some of the workload he had. With the customer service team, he was originally making decisions on unusual sales cases (urgent shipping, special customs forms, etc.) where there’s some costs involved.
He first allowed his frontline team to make decisions if it involved costs of $100 or less. And then he increased to $500 and $1000. And for each of the cases, the details will be documented, to be reviewed weekly, but then the frequency changed to monthly, and then quarterly, then almost never. One of the things he realised in that process is that “people’s IQs seem to double as soon as you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them”. Why is that?
Ownership and respect. When you empower your staff like this, they are given bigger shoes to fill – just big enough to make them uncomfortable and help them grow each time. That ownership will give them space to grow and the respect from entrusting the work will fuel their growth. What we commonly think of as ground people acting ‘stupid’ is often just the result of fear, and the lack of respect from leaders. Our cognitive functions end up being devoted to too much ‘mind-reading’ (what does the boss want? what would he want us to do in this situation?) as opposed to actual problem-solving (what does this case require of me? how do I move things forward?). As a result, we can appear to be stupid or make really silly decisions.