Autonomy: A brain-based model of leadership
When we are feeling in control, having a sense of autonomy in our decision making, we feel healthier and happier. Feeling trapped in a situation or experiencing a loss of control however can elicit a significant stress response.
Think of the reaction of a staff member where they feel unduly monitored by a manager in their workplace. A perception of micromanagement and the emotional response to this perception provides a useful indication of an individual’s threat response to a perceived loss of autonomy.
Effective leaders help their staff maintain and foster a sense of autonomy in their work.
An approach to foster autonomy in staff, and one that I have always enjoyed, is called the double-bind principle. That is, providing someone with options to choose from to give them the sense of choice, where any decision they make remains suitable.
Perhaps I enjoy this technique because it was applied by my parents strategically when I was growing up: “Do you want to go to bed at 6pm, or after Sesame Street?” I would of course choose to go to bed after Sesame Street.
This basic feeling of choice in a situation, where either situation was acceptable to my parents, is a good indication of how applying choice does not necessarily mean a loss of control for a leader.
In a work setting, David Rock captures this principle well by explaining that the “statement ‘Here’s two options that could work, which would you prefer?’ will tend to elicit a better response than ‘Here’s what you have to do now'”.
If you would like to discuss how you can foster more autonomy in your staff, please contact me.
This part 3 of a 5 part leadership master class blog series, adapted from David Rock’s 2008 publication in the Neuroleadership Journal, SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.