“Happiness belongs to the self sufficient” -Aristotle
Autonomy is our desire to choose—to direct our own lives—to have a say in our own destiny. It is one of our core needs as human beings—the freedom to plot our journey through this lifetime as we see fit while contributing to a greater good along the way.
Yet, we often only think of freedom as applicable to our personal lives. But the reality is that we crave freedom in all areas of our lives, including the desire for autonomy at work.
The idea of autonomy at work often seems too abstract and taboo—too difficult to negotiate with the fates and the furies—the “powers that be,” who run the organization big offices in the sky. Yet, autonomy at work is not only core to achieving better workplace performance and personal satisfaction, according to best selling business book author, Dan Pink, it’s also a key factor to achieving overall organizational excellence.
Within organizations, people need to have purpose: In goals that use profit to reach purpose; in words that emphasize more than self-interest; and in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms. [Drive, 223]
Human Resource departments often hear the word autonomy as an open invitation to allowing mere mortals to shape the destiny of the kingdom. But the sooner organizations realize the tremendous synergy and productivity created by releasing the power and potential of their individuals, empowering them to figure out how to do their work with excellence on their own terms, rather than initiated through strict supervision, are set up to achieving higher levels of organizational excellence.
Modern management practices are great to ensure compliance with corporate policies and legalities, but if organizations really want an engaged workforce— essential for success in today’s Knowledge Based society where individuals are challenged to do more complicated and creative problem solving—then they need to allow autonomy to work. A workplace full of Self Leaders is more productive than a workforce that is simply trained to follow corporate policies and outdated power structures, where decisions take weeks to make and moments of inspiration fade into an abyss of procedures.
But how do you create autonomy in the workplace? Autonomy is more than a right to be held onto with white knuckled fists. Nor is it a romantic notion of how Utopia Inc. should operate—it is a real and attainable state of being. However, for autonomy to work, you have to work at autonomy.
Autonomy at work starts when you begin to challenge assumptions about your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the organization’s operating norms and procedures—even if those norms and procedures seem outdated. Autonomy at work begins to flourish when you’re willing to discover your own personal sources of power through relationships, knowledge, and talents. Only after you have taken on the challenge to know yourself will you then be ready to ask your managers, and the fates that hover at the top of the ancient pyramids, to join you for a dance at the Corporate Ball—collaborating for the overall success of the organization.
Don’t be afraid to embrace your destiny! Don’t be afraid to step up and take control of your life and your career. Don’t be afraid to put autonomy to work within your organization. The world needs great organizations that are built on great leaders throughout the entire organization—not just at the top. Today, let us embrace autonomy at work!
Jason Diamond Arnold, Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action