Personal Development

Autonomy. The ultimate gift to everyone in your life.

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Have you been a helicopter boss? Helicopter parent? Helicopter friend? I have. Constantly restricting the flow of information so only you make the decisions. You make sure all procedures are followed to the letter….or else. You set unrealistic goals so that your direct report will certainly fail. You keep a tight grip on someone else's autonomy so you can feel in control.

Have you been on the receiving end of this deal? This takes me back to my first husband who had a motorcycle. We went to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco so he could show me how to drive the bike. Well. When I got on the bike and started to push the throttle, he held onto the back of the bike and it practically tipped over. No injuries but he just couldn't let go. End of bike lesson. I have never driven a motorcycle since.

autonomySo how do you give the gift of autonomy?

Here are some ideas.

Let them fail. Yep. You read that right. You need to be able to let the people in your life either at work or at home, fail. I know I just made some parents out there wince. What? Let Johnnie flunk out? Let Suzy lose her job for being tardy all the time? As Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work". From failure comes immense learning and innovation. Autonomy is about letting them fail.

Quit expecting perfection. This is why managers don't delegate. They want everything to be perfect. I have news for you. You never get to perfect. The perfect job, the perfect size, the perfect presentation. It is not attainable and paralyzes those around you. Acceptance of imperfection is where it's at. People work harder if they know that you will be fair in your assessment and not point out every missed period or exclamation point :-)he he"¦

Ongoing and going and going positive feedback. If you did not get ongoing feedback from your mother, you would never have walked. So even if you fell down, she didn't sit on the couch reading a newspaper. She gave you constant and ongoing feedback. So think about that the next time you delegate an important task. Dr. Marcial Losada created and studied this ratio of positive to negative messages within relationships and organizations. What he found was that organizations that have 2.9 or more positive messages over negative messages thrive. Those that fall below fail. In a marriage, it's got to be 5.0 or better (thanks for emptying the garbage, Honey). Give positive feedback.

Don't focus on problems. Focus on best outcomes. Ask your friend about what his best outcome would be. Focus on The What that he's interested in. So Joe, "What would you like to see happen with this project?" "What can you control in this situation?" "What would make you feel like you accomplished something?" As David Rock espouses, focus on solutions (and stay clear of the problems). Keep it outcome based.

Don't always have the answer. I am completely and utterly guilty of this. I am the Answerer in Chief. Life is one giant Jeopardy game and I'll take Potpourri for $1000. Autonomy is all about your co-workers figuring things out on their own. If you always are giving the answers, they will never learn to "do" or "think"for themselves; they will merely mimic you. Autonomy is all about folks doing their own thinking. Let them make the connections. Teachers don't give exams and sit there and give all the answers….right?

Mindset, talent and skills are not fixed. Embrace the growth mindset. As Carol Dweck defines it,

"In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work"”brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."

Autonomy involves having the growth mindset. Don't look at what they can't do, look at the possibility of what they can do.

So there you have it. How to encourage those in your life to have more autonomy. One of the three parts of motivation in his book Drive as written by Daniel Pink – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Pink says "Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement." Imagine what we all could achieve with more autonomy. So give it away starting today.

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About the author

Cathy Graham

Cathy Graham is on a quest to free folks from overwhelming thoughts one habit at a time. All recovering worriers are welcome at to pick up their free copy of 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits You Can Kick Start Today!