Is Independence at Work Possible?

In the season of Independence, it is a good time for us to think about all kinds of independence, including how much independence or autonomy we have in our work.  I was just working with a woman who said she was leaving her job because she just did not have enough independence – i.e. her boss was a major micromanager! Sound familiar?

At Genysys we think of “independence” on a continuum of the scale of autonomy. Autonomy is how much we have the ability to direct our lives. How much autonomy do we really have? We all start our lives completely dependent, as we must fully rely on our parents for our physical and emotional well-being from our birth. As we develop, we look to direct our own lives and be not only independent, but eventually interdependent where we can maintain our autonomy and sense of self-dependence while also supporting others and contributing to others. We believe it is from a place of full autonomy that we can make our best contribution.

Our Founder, Ray Rood, puts it in this context, using a chair as a way to see how we move through the pathway to autonomy.

Watch this video

Independence in the workplace comes up a lot with our clients who are struggling with autonomy. In some cases, their manager gives them too much autonomy, which can leave them feeling directionless and alone because they are expected to figure things out themselves.  A manager with this more laissez-faire attitude can be just as frustrating as one who micromanages your every move where you feel you have no autonomy. A manager who wants to know your every move and/or applies a level of scrutiny to every task can be at best frustrating, but can also be demoralizing and trigger anxiety and even depression, depending on the intensity of the hawk-like gaze.

It can often feel like the story of Goldilocks  – nothing is JUST RIGHT!

We find this is because managers are doing a lot of guessing in relation to how to manage. Sometimes we guess right. We tend to operate more in the Golden Rule of management – managing the way WE prefer to be managed. So if people are like us, we get it right. In reality, we would do better to manage others as THEY would prefer to be treated! We call it the Platinum Rule of managing.  It eliminates the guessing game!

We can easily do this by asking some simple questions such as:

  • How much independence helps you do your best work? (i.e.Do you prefer regular check ins or more sporadic?)
  • What is the major obstacle that keeps you from doing your best work?
  • How can I support you to do your best work?
  • What are a few things I should know about how you work?
  • How do you want to develop professionally?
  • What do you love to work on? What motivates you?

When asking these questions, the person you are asking may not know. Most of us have never been asked so we may not know right away, but do a little experiment to find out. Give them a little time to think it over and get back to you.

If you are on the other side of these questions, it’s okay to ask to take some time thing think about a response. And give yourself permission to try something and experiment to gain more clarity and then revisit this with your manager.

In the season of independence, looking at the desired level of autonomy in the workplace helps all of us grow both professionally and personally. Often the same dynamics are playing out in both aspects of life. Daniel Pink, motivation guru, says “When people have the ability to direct their lives, they do better work. Period.” For more, watch this video Daniel Pink on Autonomy.

Start as soon as you can to create mutually beneficial relationships by addressing autonomy preferences. This is not something to be handled at a yearly performance review, but in ongoing regular meetings (at least monthly). Helping each person contribute their best creates a win-win for you and for your organization at any stage of business!

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