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Becoming an Autonomy-Supportive Leader

3 minute read

By Stavy Papasotiriou, Organisational Psychologist and Founder of Work Unlocked

In the modern world of business, where deadlines loom, targets persist, and outcomes are king, a team's performance often relies heavily on the quality of its leadership. Among various management styles, one that stands out for its effectiveness and positive outcomes is "Managerial Autonomy Support".

Extensive studies, including the groundbreaking work by Deci et al. (1989), have demonstrated that when managers embrace autonomy support by acknowledging perspectives, providing non-controlling information, offering choices, and encouraging self-initiation, the impact on employees is nothing short of remarkable. Now, let's delve into the world of autonomy support and explore how managers can unleash the true potential of their teams.


The seminal study by Deci et al. (1989) examined the transformational effects of autonomy-supportive leadership in a major U.S. corporation. Managers who underwent autonomy support training demonstrated the following astonishing results:

  • Elevated Job Satisfaction: Employees reported higher levels of job satisfaction, attributing it to the supportive leadership style of their managers.
  • Trust in Leadership: A culture of trust and respect flourished, as employees felt valued and heard by their autonomy-supportive leaders.
  • Positive Work Attitudes: The organisation witnessed a surge in positive work-related attitudes, such as commitment and engagement, resulting in improved productivity and performance.
  • Enhanced Employee Performance: Employees' needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy were fulfilled, leading to higher performance evaluations and a greater commitment to excellence.
  • Embracing Organisational Change: Autonomy-supportive leaders fostered an environment of openness and adaptability, making it easier for the organisation to embrace and navigate changes effectively.
  • Enhanced Well-being: Employees experienced reduced stress levels and improved psychological well-being, contributing to a healthier work environment.


  • Embrace the Power of Acknowledgment: One of the fundamental aspects of autonomy support is acknowledging your team members' perspectives. By actively listening to their ideas, concerns, and aspirations, you demonstrate that their opinions are valued and respected. This creates a positive and inclusive work environment, fostering a sense of belonging and intrinsic motivation among your employees.
  • Provide Information without Constraints: As a leader, you hold a wealth of knowledge and insights. However, how you share that information can make a significant impact on your team's performance. Strive to provide relevant information in a non-controlling manner, allowing your employees to make informed decisions independently. This approach builds trust and empowers your team members to take ownership of their work.
  • Offer Choices and Nurture Ownership: Empowerment comes through choices. As an autonomy-supportive leader, give your team members the freedom to choose their approaches and solutions to challenges. Encouraging them to take ownership of their work cultivates a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to achieving shared goals.
  • Cultivate Self-Initiation and Innovation: Truly remarkable ideas and solutions often stem from fostering an environment of self-initiation rather than imposing rigid guidelines. Encourage your team members to think creatively, take calculated risks, and explore innovative approaches to problem-solving. When employees feel supported in their autonomy, they are more likely to bring their best ideas to the table.


Autonomy-supportive leadership is the key to achieving extraordinary results. By acknowledging perspectives, providing non-controlling information, offering choices, and encouraging self-initiation, you can unleash your employees' full potential, leading to enhanced performance, job satisfaction, and a thriving work environment. As psychological research has shown, the approach is a transformative investment for both managers and their teams. So, unlock your managers’ leadership style and lay the foundation for a happy and high-performance workplace.



Stavy Papasotiriou is an organisational psychologist and the visionary behind Work Unlocked — a leading HR consultancy on a mission to revolutionise employee engagement, performance, and retention in businesses worldwide. With a profound understanding of HR practices, Stavy leverages psychological principles to unleash the untapped potential of workforces. At Work Unlocked, Stavy crafts bespoke strategies that are grounded in research and tailored to each organisation's unique needs. These strategies are designed to yield remarkable results while requiring minimal resources.

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