I met Connie at a bookstore near my home. After working in the public school system for many years, she recently became the principal of a charter school. She was initially hesitant about taking the job, which requires an hour-long commute (each way). But after several conversations, the school board convinced her. How?

They promised her autonomy – the opportunity to create a system that works well by her standards. Connie was sold, which isn’t surprising. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 94 percent of employees and 96 percent of HR professionals rate autonomy and independence as either “important” or “very important” aspects of job satisfaction.  

So, Connie started her new job, excited about creating an environment where teachers felt inspired and students excelled.

Less than a year later, she’s ready to quit.

As it turns out, her new school operates on a strict system already in place for several schools. The board wants “consistency,” meaning that each principal must follow the manual explicitly.

In essence, each class has a script which dictates every word the teachers should say to their students, right down to “Good morning, boys and girls.” Apparently, this system worked very well in one school, so it’s being tested in others.

Rather than insist that her teachers be puppets, Connie refuses to discipline them for diverging from their scripts. As a result, she’s on the verge of getting fired.

Connie signed up for autonomy but has instead been given a prescription for exactly how to do her job. She’s a talented leader and a passionate educator, and this school will likely lose her.

Her leaders have put up too many barriers for any principal with experience and vision to succeed. In essence, they have removed the human aspect of teaching. They might as well pop in a DVD, rather than wasting the time and experience of talented teachers.

Here are some ideas to consider when thinking about how to set your employees up for long-term success: 

  1. Clarify expectations. It’s certainly possible that Connie misunderstood what her experience would be like – that she and her employer have different definitions of the word “autonomy.” Avoid frustrating and disappointing your employees by being clear about what they can expect, and what you expect from them.
  2. Get out of the way! You hired your team members because you saw something in them. Trust your instincts and your people. Set expectations and hold them accountable, but don’t tell them exactly how to do their jobs. If you’ve hired well, they know how to get results in their areas of expertise as well or better than you do.
  3. Be curious. While it’s important not to micromanage your employees into ineffectiveness, part of your job as a leader is to ensure that things run as productively as possible. Let your team know what’s working and what’s not. Then, ask for their suggestions about how to improve the situation and take risks with them.

Nearly every leader I’ve met has said, “Driven, hard workers are so hard to find.” Perhaps this is true. Or, perhaps herein lies your opportunity to recognize potential and refuse to settle for anything less.

Keeping it simple,

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes