Have you ever been called a control freak? Many of us associate the word “control” with something negative, and we don’t really like dealing with controlling people. As leaders, we’re told not to focus on controlling things or others but rather focus on stepping back and letting others take the reins.
Where does this sense of control come from, and is it really all that bad?
Autonomy is a psychological need based on the idea that people are empowered when they experience a sense of choice and endorsement in a task (Deci and Ryan 2008). This means that individuals gain a sense of intrinsic motivation from engaging in tasks. There are many theories as to where this comes from in human evolution, one being the most obvious that when we are oppressed, we suffer, and humans do everything in their power to avoid pain and suffering.
In the Psychology Today article, “The Desire for Autonomy,” author Alex Lickerman, M.D., states that we are hardwired to desire autonomy. Even internal pressures like guilt or shame, let alone external coercion, affect a “healthy” sense of control. That’s why empowering is all about giving your employees both decision-making responsibility and ownership. When people feel they have a sense of autonomy, they have an increased sense of well-being.
You can strengthen your team’s autonomy and empower employees by delegating familiar, everyday decisions to those closest to the core question or issue. By doing so, you can also take a lot of decision-making off your shoulders! Being a leader does not mean you are the sole person that has to make all of the decisions. You have a team of highly qualified, intelligent people… So leverage them!
While providing autonomy is positive, try not to fall into the trap of stepping back too much. When this happens, task leads may veer in the wrong direction or make decisions that aren’t aligned with the overall strategy.
Remember that delegating tasks is not an “all or nothing” phenomenon. Based on the other person’s skill set, experience level, confidence, and past successes, you as the leader can determine the level of frequency required to check in along the way to ensure the project is moving in the right direction. Also, keep in mind that the task lead may have a different approach or process, but you’re checking in on the end results.
Here’s a challenge for you. Next time, during your 1:1 meetings with your direct reports, ask them, “What am I currently doing that you feel you could and would want to pick up?”
You don’t have to agree to it on the spot, but it opens the door for a conversation. You’ll learn about their areas of interest for their own growth and potential areas for you to let go of. It’s amazing what happens when you let your team guide you into the area of autonomy and empowerment. If you give it a try, let us know what happens.