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7 Default Zones Every Leader Should Implement NOW!

There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. So many times I simply don’t know what to do. I try to lead by consensus building, but even with the strongest teams there will always be decisions about which we just aren’t certain what is the best decision.

This is why I like to have some default zones in leadership. When I can’t make a decision – I know where to default.

Having a default action when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” in common situations, which occur frequently in leadership, may prove to be helpful.

Based on the team you lead, where you lead, and your past experiences as a leader, your defaults may be different from mine.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way over time has proven to be best. This becomes your default zone.

Here are 7 of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring – default to no over yes.

If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I default to no. It is not worth taking a chance when adding to the team. When I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it – Choose not to say it.

I don’t follow my own advice here often enough, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader – or the less respect I lose.

If it’s between empower or control – choose empower.

Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way. The area I control always limit us in this area.

Choosing my preference or the team’s preference – go with the team.

There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong. And if you believe in your team – prove it.

To do something in person or by email – Choose in person

By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times. And we need personal connections to build strong teams.

If you have to assume or ask – ASK for clarification.

If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking – if it doesn’t appear they understand you – rather than assume – ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams. The best leaders I know ask the best questions. And they ask lots of them.

Commit or don’t commit – Choose don’t commit.

Leaders usually have more opportunities than time can allow. I’ve learned – the hard way – no one will protect my calendar as well as me. I’ve also learned when I over commit – I become less effective, I burnout easily, and, over time, eventually I’m useless. I disappoint less people when I don’t commit on the front end.

These may not be the ones you need – you may have your own, but learning your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Very interesting article Ron. Never thought about this kind of situations as default, but you are right, they seem to occur pretty often and we lose precious time each and every time thinking what decision to make. Analysing these types of scenarios and deciding which response works best can save us a lot of bother in the future.

  • jimpemberton says:

    This is a great list even for team members to consider. The one regarding hiring would be the exception for team members who aren't involved in hiring. And it would be easy to think of the empowerment issue being only the prerogative of the leader, but I know many situations where team members vie for power over other team members. It's better for team members to empower each other rather than try to dominate each other. Empowering is a far greater leadership tool than mere dominance. Firm authority with empowerment requires wisdom, courage and trust, and humility.

    The one of these that is closest to me in my non-Church work is the area of commitment. I'm in the position to make commitments for the whole team, but not always in the position to enforce those commitments within the team. I have developed a relationship with those who are in that position such that I generally know what their priorities will be. If I'm in doubt, I simply ask. Otherwise, I set standard goals for the purpose of meeting commitments. That is, if I'm asked for a commitment on something – usually a date for completing a task – I can say that the team has a goal to complete by a certain date. That's usually sufficient. If someone asks if we can meet a different goal, then I address it with the team and get back with either a commitment or a "best possible" solution.

    I guess the lesson here is that if you have a regular kind of request for commitment, make a principle or policy for setting goals that you can default to, like in the hiring point. People tend to be more understanding when you can't commit if you are consistent with this kind of a policy. Also, this kind of principled practice will give you an objective benchmark for detecting opportunities for growth and improvement in your team, like reorganizing, redirecting, creating new vision, identifying the need for a new position, etc. For example, preaching every Sunday morning is a commitment. Seeing people in your office is a goal, but seeing 30 people in one day isn't going to happen. Set office hours and schedule visits. If 30 people is the rule rather than the exception, you should probably hire an associate pastor or few to help with the pastoral counseling. So you want to take your team's ability to make commitments seriously.

  • kmac4him

    Really like what you said about control or empower… never really thought about it that way, the learning curve for the team…hmmm. Thanks!
    Loyalty leans into the team member. The “human condition” likes to complain and “pick apart” a newbie! A newbie is trying to get grafted into the leadership team and assumptions really derail that. You can pick apart a new person, just because they are different, but can you know their heart? It takes quality time to know a person’s heart and loyalty displayed, points people to the heart of the matter=”God equipped them and sent them here, they may be different, look beyond that, bear with them… “ You leaning into loyalty for the team member, helps them to become deeply rooted to the team and teaches others to look deeper, because this “newbie” may be different, but the God purpose inside is bigger than the surface difference outside. GRRRR… people can be so hard on new leaders and hurt their ability to be grafted into the team. I truly think loyalty is like the twine that holds the graft in place until it takes.
    Galatians 5:15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!

  • ~ Humility or Self trumpeting……choose humility
    ~ Tit for tat or forgiving……choose forgiving
    ~ To be a "yes man" or be a man of conviction……choose to be a man of conviction/principle
    ~ Surviving ("have to…" mentality) or thriving… ("got to…." mentality)…… choose thriving

  • bryankr

    I would, if you don't mind, like to expound on what you listed.
    You mentioned " In person or email- do in person. " I agree! Not only are you abke to make a point more clearly, but it also makes a personal statement. When you send an email, it has a cold, impersonal touch. When you take the time to go in person, you let that person know the importance of statement, and it lets that person know that it meant something to you that they understand what was being said. It alows you to get whatever feedback there may be. I like the personal touch.

  • ecdingler says:

    To share or not to share with the team, I typically will go towards share. I think transparency is best…bad things grow in the dark. Depending on the information and it's potential impact, I'll select the delivery method carefully.

    In deciding if an issue or task requires a meeting or "task group"….I tend to shy away from the meeting or group. We question every meeting and new task group twice, if not three times. A few extra minutes considering if the time and energy of a meeting will result in a net gain or not can save lost time later. A meeting should multiply time whenever possible.