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AUTONOMY AGONY

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Measuring your readiness for the lead role. For some, it's a dream come true. A job in which your boss gives you little or no input or interference--all the decisions are up to you. What a great opportunity to prove yourself! Or fail miserably, as Shane felt he had after his first year on the sports public relations staff of a large university.

Measuring your readiness for the lead role. For some, it's a dream come true. A job in which your boss gives you little or no input or interference--all the decisions are up to you. What a great opportunity to prove yourself! Or fail miserably, as Shane felt he had after his first year on the sports public relations staff of a large university. "My boss assigned me baseball as my main sport. Part of the job was to keep the stats and score the games. But I had always been a soccer fan. I didn't know a thing about baseball. It was like some deep dark secret I had. My boss just assumed I knew what I was doing, and I just figured I could learn as I went along." Shane learned all right, but the hard way. "Parents would always come up to me," he continues, "and demand to know about their sons' stats, and I couldn't answer their questions. They'd get really mad. And one guy almost missed out on his chance for a big award because I didn't know to turn in some forms. It was stupid, really. All I had to do was ask my boss for help, but I didn't want anyone to know I was struggling." How Much Respect is Too Much? Although many of us would prefer never to see our bosses at all, without their feedback, you can't really know if you're doing a good job. Usually, if a manager seems absent, it's for a good reason. Perhaps they respect you, value your ability, rely on you to work well without their help. "When you have a start-up, usually there are just four or five people in the entire company at the beginning," says John Frutkin, COO of Doceus, an e-business consulting company based in Washington DC. "You expect autonomy, even demand it of your employees because there are so many other things you are responsible for, you have to trust other people to handle the details on their own." And the rules of today's workplace are changing. "In the past," Frutkin says, "company hierarchies were much more structured, and work was monitored in the same way. But today, workplaces are much more egalitarian. By letting people think and solve problems on their own, that's often how you identify the stars. I think people that come into this kind of environment expect to be independent a lot of the time." But that doesn't mean you shouldn't ask for guidance. In fact, sitting down with your boss from time to time ensures that you stay on track with your project and spares you the agony if things go awry. Managers can't completely blame you if you keep them apprised of your work all along. How Do You Ask For Help Without Looking Insecure? We asked Heather Wagoner, a certified career counselor with the Wyoming Department of Education, how to do just that. "First," she answered, "I would recommend a meeting with the supervisor to work on an action plan for the project to which you've been assigned. While solidifying steps towards the goal, the individual can schedule feedback sessions at regular intervals. "Another intervention would be to pursue a mentor that has worked for the organization and is familiar with the culture of that workplace. This person can not only listen, but also act as an ally or catalyst toward your making adjustments in your work. "Finally, those workers that have professional development or staff development opportunities might suggest some type of personality type assessment in which all team members or their section take part [including administrators]. Instruments such as the Myers-Briggs can be helpful in examining individual preferences/tendencies towards work and how they relate to others in the workplace. Any sharing or disclosure would help [discussion of] parameters in their work environment. These could be introductory comments with a boss [such as] 'Remember when we participated in that training, when I shared a preference for a structured work setting?'" Lastly, the individual may be not be ready for the responsibility enlargement that the job offers. Significant factors, including emotional intelligence, maturity, and experience can play a part in one's inability to work autonomously. The individual should assess their own level of uncertainty or ambiguity, and perhaps consider changing to an environment with tighter parameters or more structure.
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