Balancing Employee Autonomy with Providing Guidance

The great jazz player Miles Davis once said, “If you hit the wrong note, it’s the next note you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” Although jazz isn’t very businesslike, a business can be like jazz. There needs to be a balance between structure and improvisation, especially when it comes to the dance between managing your team and granting employee autonomy.

A painted wall say dependency to the left and autonomy to the right.

Why is Autonomy Important in the Workplace

Employee autonomy essentially means letting your employees do their work in the best way for them, within reason. This sounds easy in theory but is more difficult in practice, especially for managers who struggle with delegation.

There is a tendency for some managers to equate management with control, but that’s not the case. The damaging effects of micromanagement are well-documented, but for a quick recap, it can make your employees feel demoralized, stressed, dissatisfied, and burned out.

Unhappy employees are not likely to stay in their jobs for long, and being overly controlling makes more work for you as a manager. Giving employees autonomy can result in a much better working environment for everyone involved.

How Do You Give an Employee Autonomy?

To return to our jazz analogy: there is a time to stick to the sheet music and a time to improvise. While some elements of the job, such as office hours and processes, might be more rigid, there are plenty of ways that you can give your employees the autonomy to do their work. One of the most powerful methods is to trust them to solve their problems.

It’s tempting to give an employee the answer to every problem they encounter, and it’s tough to balance the need to 
guide team members with the desire to let them work out solutions their way. But in the long run, self-discovery is much more powerful and long-lasting than spouting out a list of answers.

When was the last time you felt the need to fill the silence during a tense discussion or training session? How well did you fight the primal urge to fill in the blanks of every delayed response? Did you want to provide all the answers and possibly even bark out a bit of brilliance in the process? I know I sure have.

In cases like that, less is more, and silence is better. If your employee is having difficulty finding the answers to their questions, ask more questions rather than providing solutions outright. Clarity allows for employee autonomy and also boosts their critical thinking skills.

Outstanding leadership is like creatively leading a musical group. You are the conductor, and you are responsible for the tempo, the dynamics, the energy, and the expression of the music. Your employees, however, are responsible for the performance.

If you want to learn more about balancing employee autonomy with managerial guidance, click here for a complimentary video call, and we can sort out your management strategy.

Coach Dave

Dave Schoenbeck
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