Tasks are better performed when they’re chosen instead of assigned

Leadership Thought 3Leadership influences people to change. Change only sticks if people commit to it, if they choose out of free will. Leadership doesn’t work by forcing people to do things. People accept and follow leadership out of free will, not because they ‘have to’. Frank Van Massenhove[i] realized a massive cultural transformation of his government agency. He says: “What makes us happy? Self-determination, the freedom to decide as much as possible our lives. I want my employees to be the directors of their lives.”

Modern organizations crave for trust and engagement with their employees. They forget that self-determination is at the heart of this X-factor in organisations. Without self-determination trust is limited and motivation extrinsic. Without freedom to choose, corporate citizenship is impossible. Leadership therefore creates environments in which people can realize themselves. Leadership organizes the system to stimulate the self steering of people, not to kill it. How to do that? Research shows that three innate psychological needs need to be satisfied to enhance self-motivation (and mental health): competence, autonomy & relatedness [ii].

If people make a choice out of free will, even a small one, without external pressure, reward or threat, then this choice changes our self image. Further requests along the same road will be granted more easily to confirm our self image. Commitment works better if it’s supported by an act, e.g. writing, if it’s made in public and if it takes effort. E.g. initiation rituals make people commit ‘through thick and thin’ to their group afterwards, because the effort was huge, public and out of free will. Research proves that groups with the harshest rituals have the strongest cohesion, like e.g. the navy seals.[iii]


[i] The full leadership interview with Frank Van Massenhove can be found on the website of Antwerp Management School.
[ii] RYAN, R., and DECI, E. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
[iii] CIALDINI, Robert (2007). The psychology of persuasion. New York: HarperCollins publishers, 320 p.

About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 19 leadership thoughts, 3. Self-determination & motivation, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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