True meaning of “Freedom at Work”

“All that we are is the result of what we think. What we think, we become. The mind is everything”.  – Gautama Buddha

ID-100142578What was told by Buddha centuries back holds true even today. Modern day brain studies have found that our thinking shapes our beliefs, feelings and behaviors. Our thoughts determine our reality. We are the slaves of our thoughts.

Our thoughts are shaped by multiple elements including our upbringing, culture, what we see around us, our traditions, clichéd definitions of our part in society etc. In an organizational set up, our behaviors get shaped based on what we think our role should be, or what others think we should be doing. Unwittingly, we get shackled and chained by these thoughts that can limit our potential.

If you study how people behave in their workplace, you will find that it is mainly based on how they perceive their role as a ‘Manager’ or as an ‘Employee’. defines Manager as “One who handles, controls, or directs” and Employee as “A person who works for another in return for financial or other compensation”. Subconsciously, most people perceive Manager as one who “thinks and directs” and employee as one who “executes”. They fit themselves in these role definitions and it becomes their reality. It creates a vicious loop that may appear to work very well, but chains employee’s freedom to think or make choices.  It locks their potential!

If we have to unleash the potential of employees, we must change their thinking about the roles of managers & employees. The managers’ role must be redefined as a coach, mentor or facilitator and the employee must have a freedom to choose and decide.

Here are three ways you can unlock the potential within your organization –

  • Freedom to Define Purpose
  • Freedom to Choose Actions
  • Freedom to Think Solutions

Freedom to Define Purpose

Invite employees to define why they are doing what they are doing. Defining our purpose -Why we exist as a team? Why we should achieve the goals? – is the most powerful motivator. It gives a sense of fulfillment and contribution. Self-chosen goals create the greatest motivation to strive and achieve it. It creates a psychological contract that unites the team and guides them to a common goal. Most organizations have a clear mission statement that defines their purpose. One can create a purpose statement for business units or sub teams. The best way to involve employees to define the organizational purpose is through a team chartering exercise.  In a team chartering exercise, employees define the purpose of their existence, their authority and how the team will work together. It creates a sense of ownership and they feel emotionally committed to their goals.

Freedom to Choose Actions

Enable employees to decide how they want to achieve their goals. Neuroscience studies have shown that a perception of being in control increases cognitive functioning. Allowing employees to be in control of how they want to achieve their goals can create an intrinsic motivation to excel. Managers should look at creating agreements at a higher level rather than defining and controlling specific actions and outcomes. Provide employees the freedom to work based on their personal preferences. Some may like a lot of support while some may like solitude. Some may prefer clear directions and plans, while some may prefer unstructured approach. Understand the level of autonomy each person wants and enable your employees to achieve their goals based on their freedom of choice.

Freedom to Think Solutions

Empower employees to think and find their own solutions. This one truly questions our assumption of the role of a manager. Most managers assume that their role is to think and provide solutions and the role of an employee is to execute. This demarcation creates an unwritten rule that employees must first check before they act. If you truly want to unleash your employee’s potential, you must act as a coach and facilitate their thinking rather than act as a controller. If your employee is doubtful about her approach, help her think through the solution rather than falling to the temptation of providing one. Ask her “What do you think you can do?” or “What options we have to solve this?” Develop a habit of asking questions that help employees to think towards a solution. The feeling of creating their own solutions increases self-belief and feeling of growth. This teaches employees to think critically and laterally in every situation. Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think.

With freedom comes huge responsibility, both for managers as well as employees.  The true role of a manager is to take responsibility to hire passionate people, challenge their thinking, unleash their potential and steer their energy towards something extraordinarily meaningful. For employees, it is to take responsibility to define the destinations, seek support, break the barriers  and spread their wings. Let’s think that people are capable, smarter and talented to achieve the unthinkable!


Raj Karunakaran is a HR professional with more than 15 years of experience with organizations like Royal Philips, Fidelity Investments, AstraZeneca Plc, Tech Mahindra. Raj is a certified Coach by Neuroleadership Group and he specializes in organizational development, leadership coaching and business partnering. He currently heads HR for Philips Healthcare sector at Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore.

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  • Freedom to think, choose and define…Great thought 🙂

  • Pragya Shrimali says:

    Employees are much more independent now, they are better networked and equipped to do their jobs. Their dependency on managers for core job related learning is reducing due to that network.
    So the managers need to rethink the contribution they want to make and continue to enjoy the respect and trust.

  • Lourdes Molina says:

    The articule is very meaningful. I believe that empowered people can increase a lot the working team performance. But it shall come first from leader, the wish to change the work team dynamic and be persistent.

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