How much autonomy is appropriate to give? Empowering our children, employees, or anyone we’re leading is, we know, the best way to improve satisfaction, motivation, and commitment – but it also takes the right style to pull it off successfully.

Do you tend to micromanage others: monitoring even the most routine tasks to ensure success (even if it’s done in the most gentle, people-friendly way)? Or do you allow others to express their creativity, make their own decisions, and learn from trial and error? Or do you do a bit of both, depending on the person and circumstance?

Chances are your answer is the latter: that’s what most of tend to do as leaders, and it’s probably the right thing. This is where our intuition comes in: we adjust our style based on what we see, what we know, and how we feel – as well as how we perceive the weight and probability of the potential outcomes.

But we all know people who micromanage when it’s unnecessary, as well as those who tend to give full rein when it might be inappropriate to do so.

So why might we micromanage when it’s not necessary? Often times it’s because we haven’t learned to trust – or because we don’t feel we can handle the stress inherent in ‘letting go’. And why might we give unbridled freedom when it may not be appropriate? It’s usually because we have blind spots: because we have too much faith either in others’ abilities to respond adaptively; or in the system or task itself to provide the structures and cues to keep behaviours in check.

Whether our belief system generally supports a more or less autocratic, participative, or free-rein style of leadership is largely a matter of personality and habit: preferred and comfortable ways of leading based upon our past experiences – either directly or through observation – and the interpretations we’ve made about those experiences.

The truth is that what’s needed in any given situation is more objective than subjective. It’s the interplay between the complexity and characteristics of the task itself, and the interpersonal styles, habits, and skills of the people we’re leading. The key is to observe these dynamics in play before jumping to an automatic style of leading.

If we learn to provide more ‘management’ where it is needed, and to back off where we should, we allow others to experience increased feelings of efficacy and success – which strengthen the internal reward system that fosters motivation. Appropriate levels of autonomy also support and enable more effective skill development, critical thought, and innovation.

Author's Bio: 

Chris Hammer, Ph.D. is a certified professional coach and licensed psychologist. He offers leadership and life coaching services, as well as various self-development tools for people who are passionate about reaching higher levels of success and becoming the best they can be.

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