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Motiv Emot DOI 10.1007/s11031-012-9336-z


Self-determination at work: Understanding the role of leader-member exchange Laura M. Graves • Margaret M. Luciano

Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Abstract Integrating self-determination theory (SDT) and leader-member exchange (LMX) theory, we explore the role of the leader in facilitating employee self-determination. We test a model of the linkages between employees’ leadermember exchanges, psychological need satisfaction (i.e., satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs), autonomous motivation, and attitudinal outcomes. We posit that high-quality leader-member exchanges facilitate satisfaction of employees’ fundamental psychological needs, which, in turn, enhance autonomous motivation and outcomes. Results for 283 working professionals supported this notion. Structural equation modeling indicated that the employee’s perception of the quality of the LMX was positively related to satisfaction of the needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Satisfaction of competence and autonomy needs was positively related to autonomous motivation, which, in turn, was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, affective organizational commitment, and subjective vitality. Our findings accentuate the role of leader-employee relationships in creating self-determination at work, and reinforce the importance of self-determination for employee attitudes and well-being. Limitations, implications, and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords Self-determination theory Á Leader-member exchange Á Need satisfaction Á Motivation

Introduction Although the concept of self-determination is certainly not new (e.g., Deci and Ryan 1985), organizational scholars have recently begun to emphasize its importance for opti´ mal employee functioning and well-being at work (Gagne and Deci 2005; Van den Broeck et al. 2008a). Selfdetermination refers to self- (vs. other-) caused action (Wehmeyer et al. 2009). Self-determined individuals are ‘‘authors’’ of their own behaviors; they experience their actions as volitional, intentional, and self-initiated. Self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci and Ryan 1985, ´ 2000; Gagne and Deci 2005; Ryan and Deci 2000, 2002) is arguably the most widely-recognized framework for understanding the dynamics of self-determination at work. ´ SDT (Deci and Ryan 1985, 2000; Gagne and Deci 2005; Ryan and Deci 2000) outlines the conditions and processes that facilitate self-determined behavior. Recent work on self-determination in the workplace stresses the importance of psychological need satisfaction and autonomous moti´ vation for self-determination (Gagne and Deci 2005; Van den Broeck et al. 2008a). Need satisfaction refers to the satisfaction of the indi´ vidual’s basic psychological needs (Gagne and Deci 2005; Ryan and Deci 2002). Basic psychological needs are viewed as universal and essential for optimal human functioning (Deci and Ryan 2000). They consist of the needs for competence (effectance), autonomy (a sense of volition), and relatedness (connection). Autonomous motivation is posited to be a key mechanism by which need satisfaction influences employees’

L. M. Graves (&) Graduate School of Management, Clark University, 950 Main St., Worcester, MA 01610, USA e-mail: M. M. Luciano Department of Management, School of Business, University of Connecticut, 2100 Hillside Rd. Unit 1041, Storrs, CT 06269-1041, USA e-mail:


Motiv Emot

´ outcomes (Gagne and Deci 2005; Milyavskaya and Koestner 2011). Autonomous motivation is a form of motivation or self-regulation in which individuals act from their deep values, goals and interests. Autonomously motivated individuals pursue actions that are concordant or consistent with the underlying self; their behaviors are experienced as selfdetermined (Ryan and Deci 2000; Sheldon and Elliot 1998, 1999). Recent...
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