The Problem with Autonomy

man about to fall into water from rope swing

I believe in giving people I lead autonomy. I fear micromanagement. I trust people to perform, especially those that I know can.

That said, like everything else in life, too much of something is a bad thing.

In the written portion of my 360 review, completed in November, were these competing lines:

“Alex does not micromanage.”

“He needs to hold people more accountable at times.”

Welcome to the Dichotomy of Leadership.

Looks like I need to become a better leader!

As the authors argue in the book mentioned above, too much autonomy leads to all sorts of problems in an organization: Too many leaders, or people who feel like they can set the direction, poor execution (hence, the autonomy criticism), and silos (people so “free” that they don’t feel the need to consult with other groups).

(Note, micromanaging leads to several problems as well. So, it is by no means the answer).

My failure was not clearly outlining what the mission was. Sure, direct reports knew what I expected to a degree. But they had latitude. They had freedom to focus on several initiatives, rather than clarity on the mission the COMPANY needed them to execute.

Worst, they had the freedom to delay.

To counteract this, and to create the organizational clarity, I am spending time writing KRAs (Key Result Areas) that outline (bluntly), what the focus should be, and when things must be accomplished.

As the leader, it is my job to construct the game-plan and ensure that the team is focused, and executing it. What distinguishes this kind of leadership from micromanagement is that it still empowers the individual the to execute the mission in a way that aligns to their strengths.

With clarity on the mission, it is also easier to hold people accountable.

The fact that things were, to a certain extent, “murky,” last year, is one of the reasons I received the criticism stated above.

Lesson learned.