Get permission or ask for forgiveness?

I’ve just done a guest spot for the newsletter which was sent out today by Wayne Turmel. Each month, Wayne will ask a readers’ question of a guest he’d once featured on his CMM broadcast, and I was his guest back for Episode 15, talking with Wayne about Managing with Aloha shortly after HCer Bren Connelly had introduced us. Wayne is up to 148 episodes now, and that’s a lot of terrific talking story…

Thought I’d share my response to Wayne’s reader question with all of you too, for it’s a question that comes up occasionally in my coaching as well.

It was also a guideline I would explicitly give to my managers when I was actively managing, telling them that in my preferred "style" of managing them, I wanted them to defer to asking for forgiveness instead of my permission. The underlying assumptions were pretty clear:

— You probably won’t want to ask for forgiveness either; asking for it is a bummer no matter how nice I might be about giving it to you.

— So do whatever it takes to get the job done the right way and the best way; then both permission and forgiveness are unnecessary and thus irrelevant.

Yes, I told them not to ask for my permission unless they had a shortfall within the realm of talent, skill, or knowledge with something (i.e. needing more training, not approval) —more in the newsletter excerpt below. We’ve talked about this subject before: If you are the manager, make your expectations clear in regard to how people should best work with you:

SIDEBAR: For later review:

  1. 5 Things Employees Need to Learn—From You
  2. New to management: 2 Learning Hit Lists

There are also two words within my response written for Wayne which MWA readers and practitioners know are packed with implied meaning: "Great bosses" are not the same as run-of-the-mill managers. There is a calling for management I assume to be built on 10 core beliefs.

Here’s the newsletter snippet. You can subscribe for Wayne’s newsletters at the — check it out.


Readers’ Questions and Cool Answers

Rosa Say is one of my favorite people. She is just a walking hug and I have a weakness for conjoined vowels so anyone who speaks Hawaiian gets my attention. She was the star of Episode 15 and we’ve stayed in each other’s orbits since.

"I get proactivity, but I’d like to keep my job. How do I know "when to ask permission" and "when to ask forgiveness?"

Great question, Garth.

The short answer is, "It depends." The good news is that what it depends on, are the kinds of situations that are usually ideal for self-coaching that helps you grow. You answer this question of forgiveness versus permission for yourself situation by situation, by answering two other questions that are pretty easy to remember:

1. What would make work easier on my boss?

2. What action should I take that will make both of us look good?

The answer to Number 1 is also the best possible answer to "how should I be managing up?" for ultimately, that is what terrific managing up is (whether we like it or not): Doing whatever it takes to make work easy on our boss. Do that in the ethical and right way, and your boss will pay you in kind eventually (trust me on this).

The answer to Number 2 has to do with understanding that "approval" can be read in a couple of different ways. Asking for approval before taking action means lack of talent, skill or knowledge (at best), but it also can mean lack of forethought, gumption and initiative (at worst). Bosses get annoyed when they are asked for approval that is actually a guise for shortfalls in thinking and doing your homework, wimpy buck-passing on owning a decision ("Well, the boss approved it.") or as a delay tactic hurled at them to buy more time on deadlines ("Hello, Ms. Gatekeeper? Can you let him know I need to speak with him before I can move forward?") In the strictest sense, approval is required when the action that must be taken is not normally within your circle of influence (even then, rephrase the question to, "Would you like me to take care of this for you?")

Great bosses look at granted forgiveness as an opportunity to give their performing stars more coaching. Cultivate a sense of urgency balanced by forethought, take action when you should, be quick to apologize and correct if need be, and you answer Number 2 by being that star unafraid of mistakes you can learn from, and about whom the boss will say, "Yeah, he/she is one of my people."

Rosa Say coaches, speaks and writes; she is the author of Managing with Aloha Coaching, where you can "Learn to put Managing with Aloha in practice in our value of the month program: Live, Work, Manage and Lead with Aloha!" She serves as the managing editor of Joyful Jubilant Learning to encourage the 21st Century social media and digital learning initiatives she feels are crucial in tertiary learning and the building of our global neighborhoods. Find out more about Rosa’s coaching at Say Leadership Coaching.


  1. says

    Motley says: “I must conform to the wishes of the management team, even if they are wrong”

    Summary Motley: I must conform to the wishes of the management team, even if they are wrong. I need permission