Autonomy. The Ultimate Gift to Everyone in Your Life.

Have you been a helicopter boss? Helicopter parent? Helicopter friend? I have. Constantly restricting the flow of information so only you make the decisions. You make sure all procedures are followed to the letter….or else. You set unrealistic goals so that your direct report will certainly fail. You keep a tight grip on someone else’s autonomy so you can feel in control.

Have you been on the receiving end of this deal? This takes me back to my first husband who had a motorcycle. We went to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco so he could show me how to drive the bike. Well. When I got on the bike and started to push the throttle, he held onto the back of the bike and it practically tipped over. No injuries but he just couldn’t let go. End of bike lesson. I have never driven a motorcycle since.

autonomySo how do you give the gift of autonomy?

Here are some ideas.

Let them fail. Yep. You read that right. You need to be able to let the people in your life either at work or at home, fail. I know I just made some parents out there wince. What? Let Johnnie flunk out? Let Suzy lose her job for being tardy all the time? As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. From failure comes immense learning and innovation. Autonomy is about letting them fail.

Quit expecting perfection. This is why managers don’t delegate. They want everything to be perfect. I have news for you. You never get to perfect. The perfect job, the perfect size, the perfect presentation. It is not attainable and paralyzes those around you. Acceptance of imperfection is where it’s at. People work harder if they know that you will be fair in your assessment and not point out every missed period or exclamation point :-)he he…

Ongoing and going and going positive feedback. If you did not get ongoing feedback from your mother, you would never have walked. So even if you fell down, she didn’t sit on the couch reading a newspaper. She gave you constant and ongoing feedback. So think about that the next time you delegate an important task. Dr. Marcial Losada created and studied this ratio of positive to negative messages within relationships and organizations. What he found was that organizations that have 2.9 or more positive messages over negative messages thrive. Those that fall below fail. In a marriage, it’s got to be 5.0 or better (thanks for emptying the garbage, Honey). Give positive feedback.

Don’t focus on problems. Focus on best outcomes. Ask your friend about what his best outcome would be. Focus on The What that he’s interested in. So Joe, “What would you like to see happen with this project?” “What can you control in this situation?” “What would make you feel like you accomplished something?” As David Rock espouses, focus on solutions (and stay clear of the problems). Keep it outcome based.

Don’t always have the answer. I am completely and utterly guilty of this. I am the Answerer in Chief. Life is one giant Jeopardy game and I’ll take Potpourri for $1000. Autonomy is all about your co-workers figuring things out on their own. If you always are giving the answers, they will never learn to “do” or “think”for themselves; they will merely mimic you. Autonomy is all about folks doing their own thinking. Let them make the connections. Teachers don’t give exams and sit there and give all the answers….right?

Mindset, talent and skills are not fixed. Embrace the growth mindset. As Carol Dweck defines it,

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Autonomy involves having the growth mindset. Don’t look at what they can’t do, look at the possibility of what they can do.

So there you have it. How to encourage those in your life to have more autonomy. One of the three parts of motivation in his book Drive as written by Daniel Pink – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Pink says “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.” Imagine what we all could achieve with more autonomy. So give it away starting today.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on September 26, 2015

The Engagement Wizard

I think so many businesses, in today’s economy, figure employees “should be happy they have a job.” The truth is that, according to Inc. magazine, 70% of your employees are job hunting. They might smile and nod and laugh at your jokes, and at night they are on CareerBuilder and asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  Their resumes are up to date and they are ready to jump ship at the first sign of a decent paying job. They aren’t just looking for more money; they want a place that encourages engagement.  As Dan Pink espouses in his book Drive, “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the ingredients for the Engagement Wizard. Engagement Wizard

The Engagement Wizard is the secret to holding onto those employees who are phoning it in while they search for greener, autonomous pastures. It is far better to employ some engagement tactics to hold onto your veteran employees than to search out a perceived better fit. I realize that some folks are too far gone to turn around and they are the poison in the kool-aid.  Employing a few tactics to create engagement for those who are salvageable, is well worth the effort when you figure that turnover can cost you anywhere from 50 to 200 % of the positions salary (and the replacements likely to cost you 10 to 20% more that the incumbent anyway).

So what are the techniques of the Engagement Wizard? Here are a few:

1. Thumb.  Quit keeping your employees tightly under your thumb.  It’s time to loosen the reigns.  As Dan Pink said at a recent conference, no one ever said “my favorite boss was the guy who breathed down my neck”.  People leave bosses.  If you are dictating an employee’s every movement and deed and watching the clock to make sure they are constantly at the grind stone, your employee will not be engaged. Loosen up your thumbs.

2. Don’t prescribe.  You should not view yourself as the doctor who is prescribing all the answers.  As Liz Wiseman said in her book “Multipliers”, you want to shift from being the Tyrant who has all the answers to the Liberator who is listening.  Listen; don’t talk.  This encourages the autonomy that Dan Pink prescribes.  If your employee is thinking for themselves, they are happier.  If you don’t believe me, tell your partner how to make the bed.  See how that goes over; and if they ever make the bed again.  Don’t prescribe.

3. Learning.  One of the downfalls in the recent economy is the slashing of training budgets.  We keep the Sales and Marketing budget status quo, and cut the non-essential training and development budget.  This, especially for Millennials, is a bad idea.  Employees, who have a “Growth Mindset” as espoused by Carol Dweck, are constantly looking to learn new skills.  “The Investor” as written by Liz Wiseman is the leader who is investing in resources for their team.  Encourage learning so that your employees are gaining “Mastery”.

4. Monkeys.  Delegate the monkey (as in task, project or duty) and check up on their care and feeding.  Leaders need to delegate and give ownership to their team.  This is another trait of Wiseman’s “The Investor”.  You can’t develop Pink’s “Mastery” without letting go of the monkeys.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for checking in on the monkeys, however you shouldn’t be the one filling the water dish.  Delegate the monkeys.

5. Big Picture.  Does your team know the big picture?  Jon Gordon at a recent conference suggested handing out 3 X 5 cards to all your employees and asking what the purpose of the company was.  What would your team answer?  We all need to know the purpose of the organization for which we work.  It is much easier to align with an organization and be engaged when we know what the purpose it.  If you answer, “To make money”, your team is not engaged.  Make sure they know the Big Picture.

6. Non-Commissioned Work.  One of the best examples of how effective autonomy is to creating better outcomes was a study that Pink refers to in his book “Drive”.  They found that in a blind evaluation (they didn’t know which art work was commissioned versus non-commissioned) paintings that were commissioned (i.e. I want it to match my couch, I want flamingos and it needs to be 6 feet wide) were of less quality and creativeness as opposed to non-commissioned work.  So make sure your team has some time to just create instead of keeping them “in the box.”  It’s not practical to have all non-commissioned work all the time, however some time left to one’s own devices is critical to engagement.

Once you’ve found your magic wand, get out of the way.  You will be amazed at what folks can do if they are given the freedom to find their own path.   Find your Engagement Wizard and start waving the magic wand.