Leadership Spotlight

When to Let Go and When to Seek Input

A stock image of a female talking on a cellphone.

When you are out of the office, do you regularly check in with the employee you left in charge, asking for updates? Have you moved to another position yet continue to monitor how your successor carries out work you used to do? Do you make crucial administrative decisions directly affecting employees without seeking their input?

Of course, situations occur when leaders should check in while out of the office or offer assistance regarding responsibilities in a former position. In some circumstances, leaders cannot and should not seek input from employees before making major decisions. To that end, among the duties associated with being a leader is knowing when to step away and let go and when to ask for input. When an imbalance occurs in these areas, agencies likely will face challenges regarding employee performance, productivity, and morale.

Letting Go

While leaders certainly should follow through on projects and ensure successful implementation as appropriate, they also must realize when it is time to allow others to assume responsibility. Leaders who retain ownership of programs well past the time others have taken the helm can cause a damaging work environment. Strong leaders take time to know their employees, share expertise, and then delegate responsibilities. Such actions grow confidence in employees, encouraging them to step into leadership roles and meet the organization’s mission.

Employees become discouraged when they believe leaders do not trust them to do their job. When you are out of the office and decide to check in with your next in charge, perhaps your intent is not to question his or her ability to handle the job. Major issues may be happening in your community, and you care about your employees and citizens. Leaders must ensure their next in charge and even other employees do not see the check-in as a lack of confidence. They must ensure their words and actions promote an environment of trust so when they do check in, their reasons are transparent and welcomed by those left in charge. In such instances, leaders must ensure they already have made those prior deposits in the bank of trust.

By communicating priorities and inspiring others to meet the mission, leaders will set the foundation for employees to step up. Such actions empower individuals to make decisions and foster employees’ leadership skills, whether they are a formal or informal leader. Letting go can offer opportunities, such as coaching, mentoring, and finding resources, for others to flourish.

Seeking Input

Leaders are decision makers tasked with gathering information and determining what is best for the organization’s mission and people. Unfortunately, a lack of communication continues to be a common complaint in some agencies, causing mistrust and low morale among employees. In some situations (i.e., those involving mandates, safety issues, financial constraints, or short deadlines), leaders must be authoritative and make decisions on their own.

Conversely, there are times when seeking input is not only acceptable but crucial, and leaders must be able to discern such occasions. Employees may have subject-matter expertise or the ability to offer innovative approaches. Further, they may have background information formal leaders are unaware of that should be considered prior to a decision.

Messages and concerns among the rank and file can get lost on their way up the chain to executives. Often, layers of supervisory control result in upper management not hearing about issues that impede effective performance and productivity and ultimately affect morale. Those who leave input from their employees out of major decision-making processes inevitably will sense the negative impact.


Chosen and entrusted to play a significant role, leaders know the importance of making their employees feel valued, appreciated, and important. Leaders who take time to analyze their own tendencies by critically assessing their strengths, weaknesses, behaviors, and personality through various self-assessment tools can gain valuable insight that, in turn, may help them more accurately evaluate any blind spots.

Leaders who know when to let go and when to seek input create confidence and trust in their employees. Although reasons exist that preclude leaders from stepping back or asking for feedback, striving for a balance typically will result in organizations meeting their mission while growing their employees at the same time.

Dr. Cynthia L. Lewis, an instructor in the Leadership Programs and Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight. She can be reached at cllewis@fbi.gov.