Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 518–536 | Cite as

Self-determination at work: Understanding the role of leader-member exchange

Original Paper


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’ leader-member 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.


Self-determination theory Leader-member exchange Need satisfaction Motivation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of ManagementClark UniversityWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Management, School of BusinessUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

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