Control or autonomy? The new leadership model

If the pandemic and the suddenly imposed telecommuting has done anything, it is to push us into new ways of working and collaborating. We found ourselves suddenly and without preparation, in front of a new situation. The main fear was a drop in productivity and… the loss of control.

Most people, – rightly so – focused on infrastructure and organization. This is where they found themselves in front of the issues of culture. Group culture but, above all, their own culture as leaders. “How much do they work?”, “Do they work or test recipes?”, “How can I make sure they work their day?”. Along with teleworking, came the end of “controlling” our people. We were forced to realize that what matters is the result and not the time we spend at work. The future of work, the hybrid model that is now being implemented – and will continue as it appears – has significant benefits, both for people and for businesses. No need to list them. To reap these benefits, it is necessary to trust our people more and to give them space, whether they work in the office or remotely. The new work model not only does it require infrastructure but also different work and team planning. It requires us to make a shift.

The shift for managers
A shift to the role of the manager from that of a coordinator, to that of a leader. A shift away from a role of being the one who “organizes, implements, controls”, to the role of being the one who inspires, directs and builds responsibility in the team A role who possesses the authenticity and empathy that will enable him to create positive experiences, offering recognition to everyone’s unique contribution. Managers, or shall we say leaders, need to reverse the way in which they used to work with their teams, retrain and show trust!

Can you trust me
The sense of control, the power to make decisions, is an innate, human need. According to neuroscientist Amy Arnsten, Ph.D., a professor at Yale University, even mild uncontrollable stress can cause a decline in cognitive functions, such as problem solving. Numerous studies have proven that when employees feel they have choices, that they make decisions, they are more engaged, committed and productive.

Building autonomy in hybrid teams
Author Daniel H. Pink put it brilliantly: “Control leads to compliance. Autonomy leads to commitment.” Commitment is essential to the success of the new work model (it has always been). First, it’s important to value team decisions. To resist the urge to give instructions for solving problems and look for the solution through the intellectual capital of our people. To invite them to experiment, stressing that success depends on them. To show willingness to let them learn from potential mistakes. Many managers believe that micromanagement is the only way to ensure results. Given the brain’s need for autonomy, this approach is probably not the most effective. And we don’t have to choose between the two extremes.

It is important to be clear about which areas and to what extent we give this autonomy. In which areas there is a choice and for which roles. Leaders of hybrid teams are called upon to respond to a different model of leadership based on autonomy. To build new skills, to trust. Certainly, they will need to upgrade their leadership skills and retrain to respond successfully. This is the way for them to capitalize on the new working model and bring new talent near, in a war of talents that has just begun!

Marina Kounalaki
Managing Partner
Avocado Learning Experiences