Theory of Self-Determination

The two biggest human learning inhibitors are EGO and FEAR. As I work in corporate America it’s clear to me that fear and ego driven narcissistic behaviors are driving some very bad outcomes both personally and professionally. It is also clear to me that we have many fine examples of high performance learning organizations that have provided the right kind of learning environment that does in fact reduce fear and ego. Some great examples: Google’s Innovative Hyper-Learning Environment, Pixar’s Creative Environment and Starbuck’s Highly Engaged Work Environment. So what does the research say about their learning environments that make them so successful? They pay very close attention to meeting the employees “Self-Determination Needs”. What are these Self-Determination needs? Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence are three innate human needs that we all have and are critical in terms of human motivation.

The Self-Determination Theory was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan and is one of the most well known theories of human motivation. Just Google Self-Determination Theory and it’s not hard to figure out WHY when these innate human needs are met, people have a good environment for learning, growing and developing personally and professionally.


It’s not just about being independent or lack of micromanagement. It’s about having input, choice, being fully engaged, creating meaning, a feeling of being respected and held in positive regard as a unique human being.


Having meaningful relationships at work, opportunities for people to connect, building trust with others, collaborating and being part of something bigger than you.


You have heard it a 100 times on this BTL Blog site, Gaining Mastery, continuous learning opportunities, utilizing your strengths, being effective

One thing is very clear to me through my own reading, research and trying to master my own craft. If I don’t pay attention to these innate human needs of Self-Determination and do everything I can to fulfill them myself, I don’t stand a chance of being any better today than I was yesterday! What about you? Do you understand these needs and how important they are to your personal development? Are you as a leader providing a learning environment where you have a better chance of reducing fear and ego driven decisions or outcomes?

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