Autonomy is not something regularly discussed at leadership level. Certainly there is an understanding of the importance of feedback, the need to cultivate strong employee engagement and the necessity of improving core skills such as listening and empathy. However, autonomy and the impact it has on individuals and teams goes largely unrecognised. Yet it could very well be the key to unlocking employee potential.
Recent research (Stern, L., 2009) indicates that feeling a sense of autonomy has greater negative impact on our blood pressure than, for example, our marital status, our drinking habits, educational background and even our sense of social wellbeing. Autonomy is being shown to be a fundamental human need. It is difficult therefore to create a happier, healthier and more engaged workforce without finding some way of giving employees a sense of autonomy.
This does not mean throwing away the rulebook and tearing down all the processes and procedures carefully constructed for optimum performance. In fact autonomy is closely linked to certainty. As humans we love certainty and creating an environment that supports autonomy and manages uncertainty, or change, through narrative, dialogue and involvement is not an easy ask.
The interesting learning regarding autonomy is that even the slightest feeling of it can substantially change an individual’s perception of an event or sequence of events for the better. From a leadership point of view, it therefore makes sense to consider how more autonomy can be woven into daily working life and drives another nail into the heart of micromanaging. Micromanaging does indeed kill autonomy and, along with it, creativity, productivity, wellbeing and a general sense of happiness at work.
It is a fascinating subject and for leadership to be really effective, it would seem from research to date, will include the ability to foster certainty and autonomy within teams and organisations.
Deborah Hulme, Director, Minerva Engagement