Date of Award

Fall 12-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Dr. Heather M. Annulis

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Jonathan Beedle

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. John J. Kmiec, Jr.

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Dr. Dale L. Lunsford

Committee Member 4 School



Organizational performance and success require employee motivation (Delaney & Royal, 2017; Devarapalli & Hinkes, 2016; Good et al., 2022; Howard et al., 2016; Mohamud et al., 2017; Olafsen et al., 2018; Ryan & Deci, 2017; Van den Broeck et al., 2021; Wiley, 1997). However, organizational leaders fail to effectively motivate employees to engage in the workplace and achieve high performance (Delaney & Royal, 2017; Fisher, 2009; Good et al., 2022; J. D. Jensen, 2018; Pappas, 2021; Webb, 2007; Workers Are Motivated by Different Drivers and Needs, 2022). This study explored employee experiences with leaders’ influence on autonomous motivation to understand the existential experience and gain a deeper understanding of this phenomenon.

Although a plethora of research exists on leadership and motivation, many studies fail to differentiate between types of motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2017). Additionally, most studies do not explore the phenomenological experience of the leader’s influence on employee autonomous motivation (Boon et al., 2018; Cho & Perry, 2012; Levesque-Côté et al., 2021; Parfyonova et al., 2019; Van den Broeck et al., 2021). Therefore, this study explored those experiences to understand and gain insight into leader characteristics that promote or thwart autonomous motivation.

This study used descriptive statistics to describe employees’ causality orientations and reflexive thematic analysis to interpret and understand the lived experiences autonomously motivated employees maintain with leaders. The quantitative analysis revealed that employees experience varying levels of causality orientations. The qualitative analysis revealed five themes supporting leaders’ influence on employees’ autonomous motivation. The themes include (a) work effort, (b) value, (c) vision and cohesion, (d) environment, and (e) support. This study suggests that employees thrive in environments where leaders support autonomy and psychological safety. Additionally, this study found that when leaders provide valuable work or recognize an employee’s value, employees feel connected to their work and exhibit higher performance and desire to succeed.