As someone who’s spent the better part of her career on coaching and leadership training, you know that effective leadership is important to me. I know what a difference high-quality leadership can make when it comes to a business’s overall success.

So a few weeks ago, when one of my clients approached me with challenges she was facing in her new (recently promoted to) role, it led us to a conversation about the three As and how critical these elements are to high-performing individuals and businesses as a whole.

The three As are accountability, autonomy and authority: the accountability for results, the autonomy to do what needs to be done and the authority to make it happen.

These are foundational to fostering a motivated, innovative and high-performing team.

The foundation: Accountability 

This one isn’t too hard for most leaders to implement. The vast majority of leaders I work with know that assigning tasks and working to  hold their team members accountable for their performance and outcomes is key. It’s a core competency of any role—you’re given a position with certain deliverables and are expected to complete said deliverables.

Where I see this get a little complicated is when leaders are holding team members accountable, but they haven’t assigned the required autonomy or authority to empower that person to create the deliverables they’re being held accountable to. Accountability alone isn’t sufficient for success.

The freedom: Autonomy

The second critical pillar is autonomy. I’d say this is a little harder to picture for somethan accountability, but one that many leaders can manage if they’re cognizant of it. It requires a level of trust that your employees can make decisions without constant oversight. This trust fosters respect between leaders and their team members, which I’ve found to be essential in a healthy and productive work environment.

Think of this as allocating freedom.

Autonomy is often limited by leaders, who consciously or unconsciously, restrict their team’s decision-making power. It happens more often than you may realize, and you may be guilty of it in your own leadership practice. For instance, if every time an employee completes an assignment or project, you adjust it to how you’d do it or tell them that their way “isn’t right,” it signals a lack of autonomy. This level of micromanagement stifles creativity and limits an employee’s ability to perform their role effectively.

The key here is to resist the urge to control every detail. Yes, you may do things differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your way is the right way or that their way won’t yield the same result.  The idea of assigning the freedom for others to solve problems and make decisions can truly expedite their ability to make big results happen.

The power: Authority

The third, and likely most difficult, to implement is authority. Authority is the power to make decisions and influence outcomes within the organizational hierarchy. Without it, employees can feel powerless and unable to fully execute their role and responsibilities.

Senior leaders often retain most of the authority over others, expecting employees to be accountable and operate autonomously without giving them the necessary authority. This results in a bottleneck, where problems and decisions funnel up to a single leader, leaving other leaders and employees unable to act independently.

Delegating authority requires intentional effort and trust. It involves granting employees the power to make decisions on projects, oversee budgets and manage their areas of responsibility. Leaders must also work on aligning with their direct reports, backing them up on their decisions to ensure consistency and confidence.

Top performers in any organization desire ownership over their work. They want to feel valued and utilized to their full potential. Providing accountability, autonomy and authority meets this need and leads to higher retention rates and increased productivity. When employees are empowered, they feel more invested in their work, seeing it as “mine to win, mine to lose.”

What do you think? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation.

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