Everyone has received a deadline from a boss and immediately felt stressed. For some, this happens multiple times a day, which can feel overwhelming in the moment and discouraging over time.

Autonomy in the workplace is a luxury -- but it shouldn't be. Instead, goals, KPIs, and, yes, even deadlines should be set by teams instead of managers. 

Micromanagers will hesitate to embrace this philosophy because they want control, which can stifle employees from bringing their A game, and make them overly dependent on their bosses.

Rather than pushing deadlines, leaders should empower employees to manage themselves and one another, fostering the growth of a leader-culture acting on the collective knowledge of the team, rather than the imposed will of one person at the top of the hierarchy.

To gather perspective on the issue, I spoke with Oleg Shchegolev, co-founder and CEO of online visibility management and content marketing SaaS platform SEMrush.  The company runs self-organized teams in an atmosphere of trust and autonomy that contributes to sustainable growth.

After my discussion with Oleg, I came away with five strategies for empowering employees to manage their own scope of work through servant leadership. 

1. Invest in employees' professional growth.

Servant leaders consistently invest in their employees because employees who feel valued are more likely to be concerned about a company's development.

One way to achieve this is by offering additional personal and professional learning opportunities outside of the typical job role. With these newfound skills, employees will feel confident in their ability to do their jobs efficiently. 

Managers should also focus on learning as much as possible about each team member's skills, goals, and aspirations, and draw upon this knowledge when assigning tasks. Try to learn as much as possible about each team member's skills and their goals and aspirations, and draw upon this knowledge when assigning roles or tasks.

2. Cut the profit talk.

It's essential that employees know money matters but also that their managers value integrity and transparency. 

Let employees know that it's up to them to meet their goals, but that you're happy to support them along the way. Instead of pitching in or micromanaging when a project isn't going as desired, step back and focus on coaching and mentoring.

Similarly, if going over budget on a project means fostering creativity and opportunities to produce great results, a trusted leader will do their best to push these projects forward -- knowing the professional benefits will outweigh the temporary financial loss in the long run.

3. Set the stage.

Give employees a monthly or quarterly opportunity to share their experiences and successes with other teammates. This will promote healthy competition and motivate teams to do their best in reaching their goals to keep up with others, without managers constantly stepping in and urging them to do so. 

Additionally, consider setting up company-wide forums for different teams to showcase their work. When everyone understands how their current work is contributing toward the company's mission, it can be incredibly motivating.          

4.  Stay engaged.

Don't assume that every employee believes in a goal from the start. While servant leaders believe autonomy spurs professional growth, they also know it is important to remain engaged with employees to ensure everyone understands how their role and work fits into the company's overall success.

Talk with them, listen to concerns, and always save room for positive feedback. This will help detect if something is demotivating an employee and even help avoid burnout. It's better to catch any concerns or issues right away before they begin to affect employee morale. 

5.  Act selflessly.

The toughest, yet most important, obstacle is to act selflessly. Encourage an atmosphere that practices saying "we" not "me" first. When you lend a hand, it should be for personal growth, not personal gain -- that will benefit the company in the long run. 

When employees feel they are responsible for their own actions, they also feel more empowered. As a result, they are more likely to be proactive and take initiative. This helps to build a company culture of motivated achievers, rather than timid followers.

A true servant leader says to an employee, "you can definitely do it," not just "go do it." That person will be more successful and autonomous, resulting in numerous benefits for both manager and company.  

Published on: Oct 16, 2019
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