Thursday, September 3, 2009

Autonomy: Two Important Qualities Engendering It

What’s the number one thing that ticks most people off in their workplace, and broader, into their lives? It’s that thing that wrests control over our day-to-day. It’s a lack of real autonomy to do what we must and what we can do in our jobs and in our lives. When we feel constrained against the natural flow of things it eats away at our soul-strength.

In fact, the world of work is often only made bearable by the fact of its autonomous nature. When we don’t give this to people, or worse still if we take it away from them, we risk disenfranchising them completely and their performance suffers as a direct result, often affecting the overall objective—and certainly the mood of the organisation or part thereof.

I know in many ways the value of autonomy—to a great extent I’ve had it in my workplace environment for the better part of fifteen years or even longer. It’s that quality of time and space to ‘just do’ the work we’re engaged to do, and further to the discretionary, value-adding work we can do over and above our core responsibilities.

Autonomy in work (or of work) is a key to job satisfaction, but there are at least a couple of qualities that we, as workers or leaders, must have in order to warrant autonomy. We must be able to be trusted and also we must be able to be relied upon to produce the goods.


If we trust people why would we need to overly-supervise them? Micro-management is pesky nuisance in the workplace where people honestly go to work to do a good day’s work.


If the quality and quantity of the work is generally good and there’s very little re-work, why would a person need to be constantly monitored? We’d know that a vast majority of the time they’ll be fine on their own, and they’ll probably seek help if and when it’s required anyway.

Autonomy is Necessary in Today’s World

Autonomous workers in the workplace are not only an advantage; they’re a basic necessity in the context of today’s ‘skinny’ organisational structures. There is a void of real supervision and today’s organisational environments really depend heavily on trusting their employees and stakeholders to interact effectively in executing objectives and achieving planned outcomes. Relying on reliable workers is a need, not a nice-to-have.

Thinking about managing people and autonomy: if the person in question can be trusted and is reliable let’s let them define their own style of management. The trick for the manager is discerning how to manage individual employees and teams according to this premise. But therein lies the need of a manager who’s emotionally intelligent enough to be able to realise this goal.

Micro-managers reveal one thing—their innate fear to release their power and control; this is positional power at its overt worst, to the negation of ‘softer,’ more people friendly means of leadership like personal influence, charisma and use of information power etc.

When we insist on our power over others we’re essentially very frightened human beings deep down. Good leaders are full of a quiet, assured faith. And this faith helps them note who can be trusted and relied upon. Then they leave them alone and just simply support them.

Enter servant leadership… an entirely separate discussion.

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