Within the corporate world the word ‘Autonomy “is becoming a biggie! The problem is how to create it when the cultures in most large corporates are designed to do anything but create autonomous staff. Our corporate cultures tend to be about hierarchies where a select few get to make decisions and the rest of us get to follow orders. If you live in one of these cultures you will know how dreary they can be. It is as if only a part of you is required to come to the office each day – we leave the rest at the door.

So how do you as an individual start to work from a more autonomous place ? What does it even entail ? My recent shift into self-employment has reminded me of how different life is when you are no longer within the safety of a structure. I am now living autonomy and it feels very, very different. In fact it feels like one of the steps on my deep diving journey – the step from diving with a buddy to diving solo!

To do extreme deep dives like the one I did to 221 meters to set the Guinness World Diving Depth Record), you need to shift out of the normal processes. Normal scuba diving insists that you always dive with a buddy. In fact, a normal dive means you are part of a large group of divers with a Dive Master who is in charge. Very seldom do you just dive you and your buddy. All of this means that there is always someone else who is working out what the dive will look like, where you will go, how long it will take. Underwater if something goes wrong you have been trained to refer to the Dive Master or your buddy or your instructor – there is always someone there to help.

Now think about this at work. There is always a manager, an executive, a someone who is making the decisions. You always ask for permission, refer back, take advice. And if it goes wrong, there tends to be someone who sweeps in and takes over, makes the decisions, takes control.

In neither situation do you have autonomy.

To have autonomy is to be diving solo. It means there is no longer someone else to share the blame, to deflect the criticism and even more importantly, to help you work out how to ‘fix it’ when it goes wrong. This is what it feels like to dive solo. It is the most liberating and exciting experience you can ever have, once you have gotten over the first couple of times when it is the most frightening experience ever.

On my first solo dive I was doing a dive I had done dozens of times before – a simple 8 minute swim at 18 meters in one of my favourite cave systems. It is really an easy dive – no risk, no task loading, just swim in and swim out. I made 3 minutes of the swim before my terror made me turn around. I have never felt more exposed, more threatened and more afraid. I had never had to be 100% responsible and accountable for everything I did. There was no buddy to discuss things with before hand, no safety net of them making the wrong decision (oops, I mean us). There was no-one with me should something go wrong (and underwater it isn’t about the mistake you make, it is about what happens that you have no control over). If it went wrong there was only me!

It took me 3 weeks to get back in the water to do it again and now I couldn’t possibly imagine handing my life over to someone else and being a passenger underwater.

You probably have had similar autonomous experiences in your life without ever labelling them as such. Finding them and realising that this is something you are already doing is an important step to finding your autonomous work self. It isn’t about no longer listening to the bosses at work! It isn’t about rebellion or being the one person who is always negative or coming up with other ways of doing things. It is about that feeling inside, that feeling that no matter what happens this is what you are choosing to do and are 100% committed to the outcome – as if it was all your own decision.

When you start to show up like this you ask more questions, you are more involved, you pay attention because you are owning it – as if you were on your own at 221 meters.

Start small and practice. When you live from autonomy live has a flavour and gloriousness that can not be described, it can only be lived!

Live with Dare! If you would like to get some serious practice in living autonomously, contact me about the Agile Culture Workshops I am running. There focus is on allowing you to experience your self and show up in a more impactful (and autonomous) way. Or hop onto Deeply Agile and read more on the workshop http://www.deeplyagile.com/event/build-agile-culture-leadership-behaviour-lab/