The Right Degree of Autonomy

By | May 19, 2014

[May 19, 2014] As an Infantry Company Commander many years ago, I received an evaluation that said despite being a successful company, my unit was micromanaged. The criticism I took to heart. Frankly, I was wearing myself out mentally. After meeting with my First Sergeant (the most senior enlisted person), we agreed to give more autonomy to the Squad Leaders.

A leadership trait often overlooked in some of the best of leaders is the ability to provide the right degree of autonomy to those that they lead. The ability to provide freedom of action for those that follow certainly comes with the risk of failure for that leader. Yet, the most thriving leaders provide guidance and trust others to do their jobs.

A good leader is one who can judge the abilities and capabilities of people. People come with many degrees of abilities and capabilities and those change over time with maturity, experience, and education. Likewise, they change day to day due to factors that are often beyond our knowledge. This explains why it is so difficult to provide the right degree of autonomy.

My unit improved markedly over the next year and a follow up evaluation showed how much more freedom our junior leaders had in the organization. We were no more successful in mission execution, but everyone felt better about the team effort and I was not so exhausted.

The lesson for leaders is to make the right judgment about those that follow you and use a trusted agent, like my First Sergeant, to assist in determining the right degree of autonomy that can be delegated to each person.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.