Leadership in Action – Increase Accountability through Autonomy

This is the third of five blogs covering the potential workplace triggers that make up the SCARF model (NeuroLeadership Institute). SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. When one of these is threatened, an amygdala hijack is likely. Today’s focus is Autonomy. When we Connect the Dots and provide a clear vison of success and a strong “why,” staff will bring their own energy and accountability to the task at hand.

Autonomy is the ability to make an un-coerced decision. In the work environment, autonomy is the ability to operate in a “Want To” culture. As leaders, we can threaten autonomy by overusing our positional power. This overuse of power creates a “my way or the highway” approach, with little respect or consideration of staff.

The paradox of power is that the more we use it to control, the less control we actually realize. When we attempt to control (think micromanage), we believe we are assuring a certain outcome. The reality is that nobody likes to be in a “have to” culture, so our staff do the minimum effort to get through. They do not bring any of their own energy into the project. In fact, they will even give up accountably for the final product. When the outcome is not correct or short of target, our staff say, “I did it the way you told me, not my fault.”

As effective leaders, we recognize the choice our staff really have: to follow us or not. As effective leaders, we operate with an open agenda and preemptively answer the question “why,” so that our staff have context for their work. This transparency creates a sense of autonomy and increases their ownership to the outcome. They truly feel accountable for the task and demonstrate higher levels of dedication, resilience and accountability as they strive for excellence.

When we create this “Want to” culture, it may seem that we are letting everything go to chance that our staff will do the right thing, that we have empowered them to do what they want. The reality is that we are actually holding them accountable for the outcome (the performance), so instead of a push by micromanaging it is a pull of clarity of outcomes and transparency of the “why.” This creates legitimate power: the power our staff give us, and that is the power that allows us to have real control, as we get the outcome we want – successful completion of the task.

As a leader, Connect the Dots by providing a clear vison of success and a strong “why” and then get out of the way. This level of Autonomy allows the staff to bring their own energy and accountability to the task at hand.