When I talk to leaders about helping their people become autonomous, a lot of them think I mean they should give people the freedom to do anything they want. That is not the case. To inspire an empowered, autonomous workforce, leaders must create boundaries.
Boundaries have the capacity to channel energy in a specific direction. Just as the banks of a river channel the power and energy of water, so do effective boundaries channel the power and energy of people.
One of my favorite sayings is “A river without banks is a very large puddle,” taken from my book with John Carlos and Alan Randolph, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute. Without boundaries, the work people do has no momentum and direction.
Establishing boundaries sets people up to win. Imagine playing tennis with just a net and no markings for boundary lines. You wouldn’t know how to keep score, evaluate your performance, or improve your game.
Here are the steps to take to create empowering boundaries:
- Establish clear goals, expectations, and standards of performance.
Goals ensure people know the areas in which you expect them to be autonomous and responsible. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear goals and then punish them when they don’t meet unspoken expectations. Don’t be one of those managers. Communicate in plain language what people need to accomplish.
- Ensure people are aware of all procedures, rules, and laws.
Policies and procedures are important to guide day-to-day operations and decision making. Just be sure to review the rules periodically to make sure they are still relevant. If your people alert you to a procedure that no longer makes sense, listen to them. They’re often closer to the action than you are and better able to see when it’s time to rethink outdated procedures.
- Confirm everyone knows your organization’s compelling vision:
- Your purpose (what business you are in)
- Your picture of the future (where you are going)
- Your values (what will guide your journey)
By communicating your organization’s vision, you help people understand how their work fits into the big picture. Seeing their contribution to the mission and vision of the organization can motivate people to high performance.
While it may sound counter-intuitive, boundaries and the fastest way to empower people to become autonomous. Clear boundaries allow people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.
This blog was based on Simple Truth #12 in Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, available now at your favorite bookstore. To download an eBook summary of the book, please go here.