One Phrase that Gives You Freedom of Action

Have you ever find yourself waiting for your boss’ approval before you can move forward with a project?  If you’ve been in this boat, there’s one phrase that you can start using to gain some freedom of action at work.


I’ve had a boss that was extremely deliberate in his decision making.  He was so deliberate that it felt like he was slowing me down.  The problem was that I was constantly waiting for him to get the OK to continue to do my job. Many interpreted his deliberate style as just plain slow. The real issue was that my boss felt he needed to make every decision in order to add value to the organization, which was not necessarily true. He was overwhelmed with the number of decisions he felt he had to make.

I felt I knew in which direction we needed to go and what we needed to do to get there.  My boss, on the other hand, constantly hesitated in making decisions, which frustrated me. I felt like a saddled horse, being slowed down and just wanted to break loose and sprint.


Command By Negation

After months of frustration, I realized that there was a way I could help my boss out while gaining greater latitude in my job. This idea came from a concept borrowed from the U.S. Navy known as “command by negation.”  The practice is outlined in the U.S. Naval Officer’s Guide, which states, “commanders report their intention to their superior officer, noting that the action will be taken UNless Otherwise DIRected (UNODIR) and provide a continual stream of information to the superior officer, who is not required to sign off on the plan or execute it, but only gets involved if the superior objects.”

There is one simple phrase that you can start using today to break free of any constraint while, giving your boss a vote at the same time.

UNODIR:  Unless Otherwise Directed…

The phrase “Unless otherwise directed” provides you with a way forward without the wait. An example of using UNODIR is “Unless otherwise directed, I intend to implement the training program we discussed last week.”  This statement demonstrates the intent of the subordinate to take initiative using a training plan that was recently discussed with the boss.  The boss has a chance to change the direction of the team if he disagrees.


Why It Works

There are several reasons this one phrase enables you with freedom of movement to get your job done in a timely manner.

  1. Initiative. First of all, it allows you to take initiative. You are not waiting to be told what to do, but instead, you are outlining how you intend to generate action from the bottom up.
  2. Intention instead of Permission. It practices the principle of “Intent Based Leadership” made popular by David Marquet. You are explaining what you intend to do, instead of asking permission. Asking permission will generally slow down the decision cycle.
  3. Gives Your Boss the Option to Say “No.” Your boss is still in control as she has the opportunity to stop you or say no. Taking initiative and providing your boss with intent does not mean that you are rogue and running wild. You are still giving your boss a vote.
  4. Faster decision making. Decisions will naturally be faster as your boss’ option to say no or adjust your plan has an expiration date. The phrase is not an ultimatum but merely explains that if your boss objects they have a limited window to make that correction or objection.

Results = Freedom of Action

When I started using this phrase, I was surprised at the results.  I had a greater level of autonomy to go in the direction I thought we needed to go, while my boss still had a voice in the matter.  My boss felt as though he had fewer decisions to make and rarely ever provided direction that varied my plan.

In order to use this phrase and technique effectively, you should have some street cred built with your boss first. If you are not a known quantity, it will be tougher to implement the idea.  Try using “Unless Otherwise Directed” today and see if you can gain more latitude while working within your boss’ intent. It may make your collective organization faster as you work together with fewer decision chokepoints.


Question: What steps have you taken to get more latitude in your job?


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Photo Credit: Sailors aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem man the rails as the ship enters port in Busan, South Korea, Oct. 21, 2017. Stethem is operating as part of the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Graham

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