Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.

Jeff Immelt is the former CEO of General Electric and a three-time recipient of Barron’s “World’s Best CEO.” One of Immelt’s leadership tips is: Manage by setting boundaries, with freedom in the middle (in other words, give your employees autonomy).

He says, “The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those boundaries, there’s plenty of freedom.” As intuitive as Immelt’s advice might appear in theory, giving employees autonomy is not always intuitive or comfortable for leaders in practice.

Control leads to compliant behavior, but autonomy inspires ownership behavior. Giving autonomy is generally more important than doing it “the way the boss said to do it.” What’s the risk of not providing autonomy? Employees basically become robots—they give you their hands and feet, but not their minds and hearts.

Healthy leaders realize there is more than one way to effectively solve a problem, more than one way to approach a job, and more than one way to achieve results. An employee’s approach might be different than the leader’s approach, but the benefits of their ownership in the work far outweigh any loss of control that leaders might feel.

Job autonomy has accelerated as remote work has become more the norm. However, working remotely, in and of itself, does not fulfill the need for autonomy. Clarity is a key enabler for coaching toward autonomy. Regardless of where work is performed, remotely or in the office, unclear vision, values, and expectations inhibit an employee’s ability to work autonomously.

For example, when we coach CEOs on challenges with their team’s autonomy, very frequently the problem lies in the lack of clear and consistently communicated vision, values, and expectations. Once the leader and team members clarify and align on vision, values, and expectations, they create a clear context for working more autonomously and for being successful.

This clear context enables team members to choose how to perform the job within the agreed-upon context. Ultimately this results in ownership behavior by team members giving their discretionary time and effort to achieve team goals. This is the holy grail for any leader. So, here’s the coaching for autonomy equation: Clarity + Autonomy = Ownership Behavior.

To coach for autonomy, anchor your coaching discussions on your team’s vision, values, and expectations. Discuss with team members how their performance is aligned or misaligned with the agreed-upon expectations. Of course, you must ensure you are providing the necessary resources, information, and access for them to be successful.

Then, focus on results. If results are falling short, shift the focus of the coaching discussion from work results to work process—what they can do differently or more consistently to meet expectations.

For example, if a salesperson is performing well, you appreciate the results and ask how they can be sustained through next quarter. On the other hand, if a salesperson is not delivering the expected results, it is appropriate to explore the work process.

Is s/he qualifying leads effectively, making the expected number of sales calls, and following up consistently? Your goal is not to micromanage, but rather to identify a solution that enables this salesperson to succeed and grow into more autonomy.

When you give team members autonomy, they own their results. What’s the benefit to you and the team you lead? People support what they help create. When you give discretion to your team on how to do their work, you get their discretionary effort. That is, employees willingly give their time and energy to help achieve team goals.

Healthy Leadership Book