Autonomous Employees Still Need Leaders

Humans crave autonomy. When a baby savors that first taste of independence as she crawls away from Mom and Dad, the die is cast: the desire chart one’s destiny is strong.

When it comes to autonomy in the workplace, companies have come a long way from the highly regimented scheduling and oversight of industrial-era offices. These days, workers expect much more control over their employee experience. They prefer to self-direct their learning. And there are a host of  “DIY”- style services that allow employees more autonomy such as requesting time off via the cloud.

Employee autonomy in the workplace is a good thing. According to this NBC News report, the “higher levels of autonomy a worker experienced, the higher their sense of job satisfaction and well being.” In addition to increased employee satisfaction, autonomous employees also free up their work team leaders to focus on more strategic tasks.

If you’re a leader, you might wonder where all of this employee autonomy means to your leadership role. How can leaders stay relevant when employees are taking more control of their work lives?

My take on this trend is that employees want autonomy, not abandonment. Just because they have a certain measure of authority over their work tasks—and, if they’re lucky, the structure of their workday—it doesn’t mean they don’t need your support.

Highly autonomous employees still need:

  • Clearly defined objectives that connect their daily work to the company’s mission
  • Support from you to remove barriers to getting their work done
  • The occasional course-correction when they get off track
  • A sounding board to know if their ideas make sense
  • Encouragement for when times are tough

Your role as a leader is to provide direction, support and encouragement. Moreover, as self-direction increases at your workplace, you will need to help employees understand that just because they are given more autonomy over their daily work, they are still part of a team.

Autonomous employees still need leadership.

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