Why We Cherish Independence...& What That Means at Work

Freedom rang this week. It's hard not to contemplate the meaning of independence this time of year...to this very day, wars are still fought over independence. It speaks to how truly human this need is. Whether it's a nation or yourself...we all want a say over our lives. At work, we often worry that giving someone independence will result in them taking advantage of the situation, that they won't do it how we would do it, or it just is plain worrisome that someone else has control and we don't.

Let's look at what independence leads to, what it results in, and see if we have a valid reason to be worried when we give this away:

Independence>>Autonomy>>Freedom of Choice>>Responsibility for that Choice>>Cannot blame others>>Creates Ownership

What's the true cost here? We can see the benefits clearly, wouldn't you agree? If you are looking to create a self-sufficient team, then cultivating independence is clearly foundational. So, what's the catch? Why do we worry when we give employees independence?

This comes down to trust. You're not there yet. And you will find yourself in a bit of a chicken-or-egg situation. They can't prove themselves to you (and therefore garner your trust) if you don't give them the room to move; and you will always be stuck in this half-in half-out position. Leaders have to be the ones to take the first step. You hired this person for many reasons, including that your gut told you to trust their abilities, trust their experience, trust that their a personality was a fit. Take comfort in knowing you hired them because they believe what you believe. 

Why is it so much easier said than done?

Because you feel responsible for the work your team puts forth. You have standards, responsibilities and expectations, and you worry those will not be reached if you are not involved. You further worry they will act independent from the whole...not in harmony with it. It's a valid concern, but to get started, know that allowing for independence does not mean you completely vacate the process, you're just not knee deep in it. You are still engaged. You are there for questions, updates, and guidance. You are on their shoulder (just not their speed dial).

Having the awareness that you cannot grow, cannot relax, cannot motivate others without them being active in contributing is how you can get on board with Independence. In order for them to contribute, they have to feel like they have control. It's the sign of a mature, aware leader when you understand this concept.  

When I think of control, Tony Robbins' Ted Talk, 6 Human Needs comes to mind...it's his famous talk about our basic needs as humans. I highlight these as a reminder that they are basic, human needs...unless your team is 100% AI, then these will be important to know:

Certainty: the need for control, safety, stability, security, comfort, order, predictability and consistency. We all have this need for control. You, as the leader, must come to terms with relinquishing control therefore allowing others to then experience control. The other 5 are as follows:
Uncertainty (us humans, so finicky): the need for variety, surprise, challenge, excitement, difference, chaos, adventure, change and novelty
Love: the need for unification, approval, attachment, communication, love and intimacy with other humans
Significance: the need to have meaning, feel worthy (for love), special, sense of importance
Growth: the need for constant emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development (if you are not growing, you are dying)
Contribution: the need to give beyond ourselves, care, protect and serve others

The more these needs can be met, the more dedication, increased morale, and fulfillment you and your team will experience.

Perspective of your role in cultivating Independence

Let's see how you are involved:

Independence>>You are granted Independence. It comes with the position of leader.
Autonomy>>You have the power to choose, you are the decision maker.
Freedom of Choice>>Your choice to cultivate independence or not.
Responsibility for that Choice>>You develop your team's potential or you bottleneck it.
Cannot blame others>>All you here.
Creates Ownership>>You own the environment you have created. If you feel like a glorified babysitter, it's because you are too involved. If you see potential being unleashed, you are on the right track.

Independence is meant to be celebrated, embraced. Not stifled. As a nation, we declared it over 240+ years ago. We formally put a stake in the ground and declared it was important enough to fight for. Save your team the trouble of this fight. Use the energy to fight the good fights.