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Leadership Empowerment Stage Two – Creating Autonomy Through Setting Boundaries

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The last two articles have covered the importance of empowering your team, and looked in detail at the first stage. This article addresses the second stage of the process. The importance of creating autonomy [1].

In order to become empowered people have to learn new ways of thinking, and of working together. This means that you have to set boundaries. Many people try to create change without setting any boundaries, and then wonder why the changes don’t work.

All societies have rules. By the same token, within your organisation, you need to have rules that provide direction and drive. By setting clear boundaries and creating autonomy you dispense with the need to have endless lead-up presentations before you initiate change. You can deploy much faster.

How do you set these boundaries? By defining each of the following:

• Purpose – what business are you in and why?

Values – what are your operational values?

Image – what picture do you have of your future?

Goals – what are they, and when and how will you achieve them?

Roles – who does what, and who is responsible for what?

Structure and systems – how do you support what you want to do?

By defining each of these aspects then you not only develop a clear understanding of what everything means from your perspective, but you can also begin to see what things mean from the perspective of each member of your team. 

A great thing to do to deepen that understanding even further is to sit down with each member of your team and ask them to list ten things that they are accountable for within the organisation. It is extremely revealing. 

Firstly, because most people struggle to find ten things that they are accountable for; in fact some people struggle to find one. Secondly, because there is often a significant difference between what they think they are supposed to be doing, and what you, or management, think they are supposed to be doing.

The reason this is such an empowering exercise is that vision is not brought to life by people’s understanding of it. Vision truly comes alive when people see that their contribution makes a difference.

Once you’ve established the team’s vision, you need to strengthen their commitment to the values. This generates unity within the team, makes people feel important, and creates a sense of privilege. 

You do this by looking at how the organisational values tie to each individual’s job description. This develops a deep sense of involvement and clarifies the values in the eyes of each team member. They see the ways in which what they do matters, on both a personal and an organisational level. The thinking then becomes, ‘why would I work for anyone else?’ [2].

You need to ensure that you are constantly reaffirming your values with your team. Have those sprint meetings once a week. Values should be a constant discussion. Once you have started having those conversations, then your eyes will be opened up to a huge number of opportunities. 

When people know where you’re going and why, then they can start to contribute. And when they’re contributing, they’re engaged. You create alignment and unison.

Early in my career I was taught that the aim was to reach a destination, but that is not the case. It’s a journey. I was always taught to cut up the pie and get the biggest piece of the pie. That was the destination.

To be a better leader, your motivation is not to cut up the pie. It is to grow the pie. I recently heard Richard Turner, the founder of Zen Energy, speaking. I believe that he has made some incredible moves. Although he no longer owns 100% of his company, his company is now exponentially bigger. The pie has grown. This comes back to leadership.

If his destination had been to reach a certain point, he would have stopped once he reached that point. Instead, he has recognised that it’s all about the journey, and that is why he’s been able to keep pushing forward, growing, and developing.

The next article looks at Stage Three – Replacing Hierarchies With Self-Directed Teams. 


1. Journals.sagepub.com. (2018). To Have Control Over or to Be Free From Others? The Desire for Power Reflects a Need for Autonomy – Joris Lammers, Janka I. Stoker, Floor Rink, Adam D. Galinsky, 2016. [online] Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167216634064?rss=1 [Accessed 24 Nov. 2018].

2. Nielsen, K., & Randall, R. (2012). The importance of employee participation and perceptions of changes in procedures in a teamworking intervention. Work and stress, 26(2), 91-111.

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