The Neuroscience and social psychology that underlies why people do what they do is both well known and fascinating.  We have been writing about the S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ model, but the question comes up, how can you spot someone with particular S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ triggers without first making them take an assessment? To get into the nitty-gritty details, the assessment is kinda required, but there are basic things you can look for to get a sense of some of their triggers. For this third post of this 5 part blog series on ‘How to know other’s S.A.F.E.T.Y.™ triggers’, we are going to talk about Autonomy.

Autonomy in Psychological S.A.F.E.T.Y.™

Autonomy is the need to feel in control over our environment and that we have choices.

The people who are high on the need for Autonomy tend to be the ones who are always pushing for freedom. Entrepreneurs tend to be high in a need for Autonomy. It serves them well since anyone who has ever run their own company knows how lonely this path can be. Entrepreneurs need to be hyper-willing to make critical decisions that could end their company at any time.

Why it’s important to spot team members with Autonomy triggers

Part of the great resignation is about people’s interest in gaining more Autonomy. People who are high in the need for Autonomy may end up being your most creative workers, those who are easiest to manage, and those who can bring an entrepreneurial spirit to your organization. Your company’s future engine of growth may depend on finding and turning these people into “intrapreneurs” before you lose their talent and drive.

You can spot people high in the need for Autonomy as they are the ones who carry a disdain for micromanagement and systems of control that limit them. They work best when they are given a task and left alone to get it done on their own. With these people, a manager just needs to tell them what the objective is, when it needs to be completed, and what resources they have to get going. They will handle everything else on their own. The manager may even need to push them for updates, because they may not even think to give an update. They simply come back when things are done. This independence can at times cause issues when they run into a problem, and rather than reaching out to others to help solve it, they will go it alone – and potentially waste time and energy unnecessarily.

At times, people who are high in the need for Autonomy can be disagreeable as they fight for separation from systems of control. One of the tools they may test when they feel restricted is playing the role of contrarian. These positions can range from reasonable and defendable to positions that simply are the opposite of what everyone else thinks – even if their position may seem irrational or unuseful. When this happens, it’s important to remember that their real goal is to create an independent space for themselves, so they can meet their need for Autonomy. Unfortunately, sometimes this tactic hurts the person more than helps, but other times, when it is well considered and argued, it can add valuable insights into areas others are not considering.

That said, highly autonomous workers who are competent and proficient at their job are often extremely valuable and low-maintenance employees.  They are independent thinkers and operators who work effectively when they are given choices in their decisions and how and when they work.

Workers with a low need for Autonomy on the other hand, will likely need more direction, and like to work collaboratively with a support net. These are the people who will be reluctant or afraid to go too far out on a limb before asking advice or direction from a superior.  These are also the people who will come through and deliver for their supervisor and team when given a direction to do something. All companies need some workers with a low need for Autonomy, but these are not the people who are going to be looking to stretch themselves into upper management positions, take on new business units, or run forward on a new initiative. They are happy working on a team where the instructions are clear and where they are given clear direction about what they need to do when they are rewarded based on delivering requested results. Never forget, these are the employees who could be your most loyal. Considering the shortage of workers – it will be good to know who they are and what it will take to keep them happy.

Team Selection for a Stronger Business

What do you think? Would you want employees with a high or a low need for Autonomy and why?

When it comes to selecting a team mate, you cannot look at the individuals’ Autonomy score alone. What is most critical is the landscape of scores inside that team. You’ll want to have a diversity of scores to allow for the differing opinions you need in order to make the best decisions possible.

If you want to know more about what the Academy of Brain-based Leadership does to help leaders and teams perform at their best, you can find out more at

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