Resilience - Autonomy

Resilience – Autonomy

In this series, I am introducing you to the twenty superpowers that leaders need to possess to create an environment for resilience. This is an environment in which individuals and teams are resilient in the face of constant change.

Individual resilience is critical when the world around us is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Resilience means we can adapt to difficult situations and not just survive but thrive. Unless we do, the stress will overwhelm us, and we will suffer physicallySup and mentally.

Each week we will explore one of those twenty superpowers.

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Superpower – The Autonomizer

The Autonomizer provides employees with autonomy which is the freedom to do their job their way.

Autonomy gives employees the power to shape their work environment in ways that allow them to perform at their best.

The benefit to both the employee and the organization is that employees are happier, more engaged, more committed and motivated, more productive and less likely to leave the organization.

Autonomy does not mean anarchy. The Autonomizer provides employees with guardrails and clarity of purpose as discussed in chapter The Leader.

Freedom of choice is a key to autonomy, but not too much choice that is dangerous. Guardrails are boundaries and a system to hold people accountable for their results which allows autonomy to flourish. Within these clear boundaries, people are empowered to determine how they will achieve their goals.

Clarity means that The Autonomizer has provided clear and unambiguous direction for their employees. The goals, outcomes, and expectations are absolute.

In addition to provision of guardrails and clarity, the following need to be taken into account to provide autonomy.

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Start small

For many leaders, providing autonomy is moving from an environment of command and control to one of delegation and trust. This can be a huge shift in mindset as well as ways of working.

However, leaders do not have to do this in one massive leap. You can take small steps.

Find a small, low risk initiative and assign the task to a team member. Explain that you are trying to change your leadership style to provide more employee freedom.

Be clear about the task at hand, your expectations, required outcomes and completion date. Agree on the check-in frequency.

Let your employee know that you are there to support and remove obstacles as needed and that they can reach out at any time in-between the scheduled check-ins.

At the check-ins confirm that the frequency of check-ins is working and if not amend the frequency. As a leader you provide feedback to the employee and vice versa. This is most likely a learning experience for both of you.

At the end of this exercise, you have a more engaged employee and you will have more time available for yourself.

Rinse and repeat. Now provide other employee(s) with a task and the autonomy to complete it as they wish.


Some leaders provide autonomy only to rein control back in when a crisis occurs.

Provision of autonomy must be consistent. Instead of reining in control as soon as a crisis is perceived, you should create a renewed focus of utilising the strengths of the people around you.

Gather the team together and determine how best to deal with the crisis. Inconsistency is heard as “I trust you to do the right thing but only when it is smooth sailing. I don’t trust when the going gets tough.” This leads to mistrust, doubt, confusion and disengagement.


If you want to provide autonomy, you have to trust your employees to do the right thing. When this happens, employees feel they are an integral part of the team.

When employees have a leader who trusts them, they are more engaged and productive. You need to trust your employees and let them get on with the job within the guardrails provided. You must not then undermine this trust later by taking back control. You need to be consistent.

You have to demonstrate trust. You have to be self-aware to recognize when your actions may demonstrate a lack of trust. Trusting an employee doesn’t mean that they know you trust them. Trust can be demonstrated by not admonishing an employee when something does not go as planned. Trust means tolerating mistakes and using them as opportunities to learn.


To provide autonomy, you need to be transparent. You need to share information and be open and honest. Doing so tells employees that you trust them with the truth. People often intuitively know when information is being kept from them, which translates to you don’t trust me.

With transparency comes trust and respect.

Being honest is perhaps one of the most difficult ideas for many leaders. When leaders learn to be transparent i.e. tell the truth, they have to trust their employees with the truth. For many, this can be a very big leap of faith. If leaders are truly transparent, they are telling employees that they trust them with the truth even in the most difficult circumstances.

Transparency also means you share your own mistakes and challenges with your employees. Transparency equals integrity, honesty, vulnerability, humility, and trust.

Successful digital transformation is a matter of know how and access to the best talent. We connect you to both.Click for more.

Embrace mistakes

Mistakes will be made. Do not be destructively critical when mistakes are made. This will kill initiative and, consequently, employee engagement.

Innovation and creativity do not happen when people work in fear. See mistakes as learning experiences. With each mistake you are moving nearer to success.

Celebrate the mistakes as well as the successes.


Make sure your employee has the capability and competency to undertake the task you are giving them. Ensure they have the necessary tools and resources available to them. Do everything you can to set them up for success.

You can read more in Karen’s Leadership and Resilience series, here

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