This past Father’s Day, I was able to share with my dad, Tony. It was a great day of sitting outside, spending time with loved ones, eating good food, having a cocktail, and shooting the breeze. At one point, the rest of the family had stepped away and he and I were sitting outside on our own. I took this opportunity to ask him, “What has been the best part of fatherhood and the most challenging?”
His answer back to me was the following:
BEST - Watching who the three of us have become and who we are STILL becoming.
MOST CHALLENGING - This answer was mainly related to when the three of us were younger - it was the balance of providing guidance vs. becoming authoritative. He said he always wanted to solely provide guidance and have us listen to it, but in true kid fashion, we didn’t always take his advice and he had to figure out at what point, did he have to step in and be more authoritative (sometimes this even came in the form of punishment - mainly my siblings though, I never broke the rules, LOL).
As always, I start to think of how my conversations or experiences relate back to all of you in this community. My dad’s response made me think of two terms we do hear about in the work place - autonomy vs. control. How do we balance (guiding) those we lead to thrive with autonomy and allowing ourselves to not have to become authoritative or take control of everything of those we lead?
As you all know, there’s a fine balance between autonomy and control, and leaders (like my dad) don’t have the option of ignoring this reality.
So, how do you find the right balance between autonomy and control? How do you know if you’re setting your team up for success, or setting them up to resent you? Let’s take a minute to reflect.
The Problem With Being a Doormat
It’s human nature to want others to like you. We all want to be the leader everyone loves, so we might fall into the anything-goes trap. Adopting an easygoing attitude is a quick way to earn points with your colleagues.
Of course, there must be autonomy in the workplace. Employees with more autonomy are happier and feel more valued. But if you let your team structure every minute and make every decision without any oversight, you risk falling behind or getting completely off track. People may decide to work fewer hours, take longer breaks, and treat important deadlines more like suggestions.
The Problem with Being Controlling
A quick way to annoy others is to schedule every minute of their day and hand them a long list of rules and regulations. Keep that up, and you’ll be training the next round of hires sooner than you’d like.
The key is finding what works for your particular organization and team, and having systems in place to ensure expectations are being met.
Some Ideas About Shifting the Balance
I unfortunately can’t tell you how to balance autonomy and control (and it is often different for each individual you lead), but I can offer up a few questions to think about as you are trying to figure it out.
How long has each person worked on your team? How have they handled other tasks?
How long has the team worked together? What is their prior experience?
How can you release some of your oversight? Can you schedule check-ins to go over items that you don’t need to monitor closely?
How does your team feel about your management style? (You can give an anonymous survey to gather this data.)
Are the people on your team finishing their work in a timely manner? Is it always ready before important deadlines?
What is the quality of your team’s work?
What are your company’s values? Does your balance between autonomy and control uphold those values?