Defining Expectations with Your Supervisor

For a season I facilitated coaching networks for executive pastors—leaders who serve under the leadership of a senior pastor and are often responsible for the daily operations, the staff, and other large buckets of work. One of the most consistent lines of questioning I received from these leaders pertained to role clarity regarding decision-making and execution. What decisions should I be making without my leader’s involvement? What should I be bringing to his attention? What should I just be executing?

These are wise questions, and if you work for a senior leader, you should be asking them too. But there is not an answer that universally applies because each supervisor and each situation is different. What is consistent, however, is the need for clarity. Without clarity as to who is deciding what and who is implementing what, frustration and confusion will be rampant.

I encourage leaders and their supervisors to have open and continual discussion about the expectations around decision-making and execution. Below is a framework I have used to help leaders work with their supervisors to define who is responsible for what. I encourage them to discuss what types of decisions should go in each bucket. The below framework is designed for a leader to have a discussion with his/her supervisor. So the “You” is the supervisor and the “I” is the leader who reports to the supervisor.

Bucket 1: You decide / I implement:

What decisions do you want to make and then entrust the details of execution to me? What decisions do you want to be the driver of? This bucket is about the types of decisions that the supervisor wants to initiate and then hand-off to others.

Bucket 2: I recommend / We decide / I implement:

What types of decisions do you want me to bring to you for us to decide together? This bucket is essentially about decisions the supervisor wants to have visibility into and influence over before the trigger is pulled.

Bucket 3: I decide / I implement / I communicate to you:

What areas of work are you wanting me to run with completely and keep you informed of along the way? This bucket is about areas of responsibility that have been fully delegated to you but the supervisor wants to be aware of and have visibility.

Bucket 4: I decide / I implement / No communication needed:

What areas of work do you want fully off your plate? What areas of responsibility do you want me to run with fully and only communicate upward if there is a problem?

Over time, decisions may move from bucket to bucket. The senior leader may want to get more involved for a season in a specific initiative. Or the supervisor’s trust of the leader may grow as the leader builds credibility through great decision-making and execution. Because decisions may move from bucket to bucket, an occasional check-in on what types of decisions should fall in each bucket is helpful.

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