When given the freedom to do it in their own way, employees feel a greater sense of ownership for their work, which in turn boosts morale and engagement. In contrast, when given responsibility but not corresponding authority, employees quickly become frustrated, discouraged, and disengaged.
As leaders, we should strive to give those we lead authority by encouraging an appropriate level of independence and autonomy. Clancy Hayes writes, “Leaders need to be willing to trust those they ask to do a job by giving them the authority necessary to do the job.”
Of course, just as the size, scope, and difficulty level of assignments should vary based on the experience and skill level of the individual or team, so should the degree of authority and autonomy given.
While everyone has unique potential, everyone also has unique personalities. Some people cannot handle a great deal of responsibility and authority without becoming over-burdened and distressed—Mac McIntire likened this to trying to send a surge of power through a low-watt bulb. “Some employees cannot handle more than a few watts of responsibility and authority. Empowering these employees with a surge of new responsibilities may cause sudden spasms of anxiety and rapid burnout.” He went on to say,
“On the other hand, if a manager sends 10 watts of empowerment through a 100-watt employee (one who is fully capable and willing to do more), the employee will never achieve his or her full potential. Highly capable employees who are underutilized become de-energized when their talents and abilities are not used fully. Eventually, 100-watt employees who are only given 10 watts of power either become 10-watt employees or they leave the company and go somewhere where they can reach their full potential.”
Knowing this, we must carefully determine the appropriate level of independence and autonomy for the teams and individuals whom we lead, giving them the amount of authority best suited to their experience and skill level.
Of course, this is a dynamic process—shifting as circumstances change, skills are developed, and people grow. As Clancy Hayes suggests, “Increase authority when performance earns it and responsibility requires it.”