The formula for developing high potential candidates into leaders can be broken into two steps: giving them challenging assignments, and then giving them the latitude to accomplish them. Affording high potentials the space and choice they need to grow is important, as it allows them to find their footing without being micromanaged.

Good leaders know that if they give their people little decision-making power and hold their hand throughout their career, their people will be stunted when it comes time for them to go it alone. Combined with the notion that people are more committed to goals and methods that they choose for themselves, good leaders lean heavily on delegating decision making to gain buy-in for initiatives and develop their people.

But can too much latitude become detrimental?

There is a point at which too much space and too much choice can actually hinder the development of high potential talent. Too many options can reduce a person’s ability to choose, and instead of improving their discernment, people will use heuristics to make decisions—that is, they’ll tend toward experience-based techniques to arrive at an end result. This often results in a lack of innovation and change, as a common heuristic is to “go with what you know” in the face of an abundance of options.

With increased choice comes increased independence, but leaders should be wary of how much independence they allow their people. Push their high potentials past their comfort zone, but still be vigilant to the breaking point. A good leader strives to strike the middle ground between leaving their people sans direction (and thus risking their boredom) and overextending them by deploying their reach too widely. Developing leaders need a safety net, allowing them to walk the tightrope alone but giving them a buffer from failure that could damage them.

How do you know which choices to give?

When determining the amount of latitude to give, leaders should consider the following:

  • What is this person’s experience level?
  • What are the criteria for this decision?
  • Is there a structure for this decision-making process that could guide them without suffocating them?
  • Is the choice meaningful?

These are all important factors in deciding how much room should be awarded. Be tight on their goals, but loose on the methodology (so long as the methods are legal and ethical and don’t conflict with the overall business strategy). And should they misstep, resist the urge to be visibly upset or take on the task yourself. Provide reassurance and guidance.

Your goal in developing others is to increase both their competence and confidence. Part of this will be in allowing them to go out on a limb and make business calls that they then defend and carry through. While you shouldn’t aim to be omnipresent, thereby reducing all decision-making latitude, you shouldn’t cast them completely on their own. Provide basic guidelines for what you’d like to have them accomplish, and see how they achieve these results on their own accord.

How much latitude do you like to give your people when developing them? Do you believe that too much choice can make decision making more difficult?