The Self-Determination Theory.

Managers and leaders have long debated the best ways to bring the best out in their people. From micro-managers to coaching types, right through to light touch supervision, the world is full of management and leadership theories, learnings and frameworks. Recently a friend introduced me to one I’ve never heard of before, The Self-Determination Theory.

Now to be fair, said friend is a highly intelligent academic woman who has endless knowledge in this space, but what you’re going to get is Jason’s explanation for dummies on something I think is just good common sense and very simple to try and apply to any given leadership situation.

To catch you up, The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) was developed by clinical psychologists Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan. The theory revolves around motivation, breaking down what drives people to act a certain way or their willingness to perform a given task. The SDT works to address three common, intrinsic needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. According to the SDT, if these needs are met, then people will develop and reach their potential.

Petty simple stuff at a high level. Let’s break down the 3 main needs that make up the theory:

Competence: Common sense right? You want someone in a role who has the capability to perform the tasks assigned to their job.
Autonomy: This is the big deal. If you’ve hired someone to do a job, they have all the skills to perform the role, then let them do it!
Relatedness: Your people must feel some sense of relation or ownership, whether that’s internal relationships or a buy in to a common direction or creed. This is why your company/team culture is so important.

There are also mini theories around SDT and likely important parts that I’ve missed, particularly around intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. I suggest that if you’re interested in learning more, do what I’m doing and check out

Let me know your thoughts. Interested to hear how this could be applied to your team.


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