General introduction

Work can allow people to self-actualize in their journey through life (Maslow, 1998). With befitting leadership, a broader organizational purpose, and attentive care for values and the basic psychological needs of employees, the workplace can become the birthplace of eudaimonic well-being and enhanced performance (Inceoglu et al., 2018; Maslow, 1998; Ryan & Deci, 2017; Ryan et al., 2008). That is the central premise carrying this thesis. An ideal workplace provides a space where human beings flourish, grow, learn, and self-develop professionally as well as personally, and contribute to meaningful outcomes beyond their immediate self-interest in an atmosphere of psychological safety (Edmondson & Lei, 2014), exciting challenges (Doshi & McGregor, 2015), and joy (Sisodia & Gelb, 2019).

We will consider the potential benefits of leadership, purpose, and values through the lens of human motivation as defined by self-determination theory and study their associations with work engagement. For leadership, we draw on the concept of engaging leadership (Schaufeli, 2015). With purpose, we examine the impact of a corporate purpose fitting the description of a broader purpose aiming to benefit all stakeholders (Freeman et al., 2004) as opposed to a corporate objective that aims to satisfy shareholders’ interests exclusively (Friedman, 2007). Values are studied through employee perceptions of the organization’s values. We distinguish an intrinsic orientation focusing on personal growth, contribution, and care, from an extrinsic orientation stressing values such as power, status, and financial success.

We argue that employee motivation is a core process that connects leadership, purpose, and values with the desired outcomes of well-being and engagement. Motivation lies at the heart of human behavior; It explains why we do what we do (Deci & Flaste, 1996), how we find meaning and significance in our lives and work (Martela & Pessi, 2018), and why we may experience eudaimonic well-being (Ryan et al., 2008). Through the studies offered in this thesis we aim to build on the basic principles of the UN sustainable development goals for humanity: “To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” (United Nations [UN], 2019, Goal 3, p. 26); “To promote full and productive employment and decent work for all” (UN, 2019, Goal 8, p. 38); And “support workers to be more entrepreneurial, creative and innovative” (GRI, 2019, Target 8.3, p. 95). All human beings deserve to fulfil their potential in dignity and equality (UN, 2015).

In contrast, current thinking on leadership displays a preoccupation with economic performance and organizational efficiency over meaning-making (Podolny et al., 2004), employee well-being (Inceoglu et al., 2018), and motivation (Deci et al., 2017). Moreover, the role of purpose is often overlooked and taken for granted (Kempster et al., 2011), and studies into the role of values in leadership research remain scarce (Yukl, 2012). We maintain that today’s state of crisis of employee engagement (Mann & Harter, 2016) and the prevalence of burnout and psychosocial stress among employees  (Douwes & Hooftman, 2020; Schaufeli et al.,, 2009) are related to the preoccupation of leadership with economic performance (cf. Alimo-Metcalfe, 2013), the limited attention to purpose and values, and the lack of interest in the essential role of human motivation.

The limited academic interest for purpose, values, and human motivation and the preoccupation with economic performance in leadership studies is problematic. First, because for business organizations to thrive in todays’ global political and economic climate with its rapid changes and burgeoning technological advancement, it is paramount that employees are committed, self-motivated, agile, creative, and pro-active (Brosseau et al., 2019; Deloitte, 2016; Peters et al., 2018). Today’s business organizations are knowledge-intensive and operate in a world that portrays as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA, see also Bennett & Lemoine, 2014 for an accessible overview). Organizations depend on the flexibility, social skills, and competencies of workers, their innovative capacities, creativity, enduring motivation, and resilience (Peters et al., 2018). The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus dramatically illustrates the volatility through how the outlook on life, work, and living changed almost overnight on a global scale with consequences for human well-being that can hardly be overseen. The equation of leadership with economic performance neglects these complexities and draws on a level of prediction and control that, in fact, does not exist (Lazonick, 2016).

The second reason why the limited interest in purpose, values, and motivation within leadership studies is problematic, is that work itself has become central for individuals longing to lead a life of meaning and value (Ciulla, 2000). This adds to the complexity of leadership (Kaye & Giulinoni, 2012). Over the past decades, work has increasingly become a vehicle for self-realization, personal growth, life satisfaction, and happiness (Ciulla, 2000; Sisodia & Gelb, 2019; Wong, 2012) and has become the center stage for the realization of the Western ideal of self-determination and authenticity (Taylor, 1991). Consequently, the expectations and aspirations people have from work, their organizations, and managers have increased, presenting a complexity far beyond the simple mechanical equivalence of leadership and performance.

A third reason why this equation of leadership and performance is problematic is that the negative consequences of traditional management theory (Argyris, 1964) and neoliberal theory and practice (Friedman, 2007) have become manifest during the last 40 years of shareholder value primacy (Berger, 2019; Salter, 2019). For societies, organizations, and individuals alike, the inadequacies of orthodox economic theory and failing public policies have contributed to today’s crisis of capitalism, fast-growing inequalities, climate change, and social unrest (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016).

However, the pendulum may swing. Recent approaches in leadership and management herald that organizations with leaders who promote a higher purpose, live their values, and heed the needs of their employees are more successful and pave the way for a more sustainable future (Gartenberg et al., 2016; Henderson & Steen, 2015; Polman, 2016). The Business Roundtable (BRT, 2019) representing the largest U.S. corporations, recently subscribed to that vision. It tellingly added that purpose and values should unify management, employees, and communities alike and drive corporate ethical behavior. The principal task for companies, then, becomes to provide a framework to benefit others and prioritize sustainable long-term rewards over short-term interests for which leadership, purpose, and values are indispensable (Fink, 2019).

The challenge taken up with this thesis is to examine the potential advantageous effects of leadership, purpose, and values from the perspective of human motivation. This perspective is gaining relevance, granted the actuality of the debate on the broader role of business organizations, emerging “shareholder wealth fatigue” (Harrison et al., 2019, p. 2), the current state of employee engagement, and the high levels of burnout. A growing body of studies explains the relationship between leadership and work outcomes—such as engagement, well-being, and performance—referencing human motivation as described by self-determination theory. This theory posits that human motivation is nourished through the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs (Deci & Ryan, 2000): the need for autonomy (i.e., volitional functioning), competence (i.e., being effective), and relatedness (i.e., being truly connected with others). The fulfillment of these needs leads to a range of positive outcomes in human growth, optimal functioning, and flourishing (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Specifically, we argue that leadership-purpose-values are antecedents to work engagement and that human motivation, through basic psychological needs, explains the relationship (Van den Broeck et al., 2008; Meyer & Gagne, 2008; Solansky, 2014; Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). It directs the attention to the process of leadership instead of the presumed direct relationship between leadership and economic performance or engagement. Leadership behaviors do not explain the bulk of variance in employee engagement. Leaders do not boost productivity, performance, motivation, or engagement, nor can they. It is the labor and energy of employees that bring things forward. The task of leadership is to create the social, psychological, and material conditions under which people flourish (Ciulla, 2018) and can be productive (Maslow, 1998). The leadership context should support employees to motivate themselves and direct their energy towards the work at hand (Deci & Flaste, 1996). It should offer a work context rich with learning, self-development, and opportunities for growth, ample room for initiative and involvement, and meaningful personal relationships and purpose (Rigby & Ryan, 2018).

Maslow (1965) stated that “(…) proper management of the work lives of human beings, of the way in which they earn their living, can improve them and improve the world and in this sense be a utopian or revolutionary technique” (p. 1). At the start of the millennium, Payne (2000) bemoaned that it would take a change of volcanic force to create such a work context. Now, twenty years later, the idealism may find new ground through studies, research, and widely applied and well-documented experiments with different ways of and visions on leading, working and organizing (cf. (Laloux, 2014; Sisodia & Gelb, 2019)). With this thesis, we hope to contribute to the continuing development of insights and knowledge to shape work environments where people may self-actualize and lead a life of meaning and dignity. Below we will introduce self-determination theory and the concepts of engaging leadership, purpose, and values in more detail.

Self-determination theory
Self-determination theory (SDT) is a macro-theory on the psychology of human motivation that seeks to understand the dynamics in social contexts and conditions that facilitate or hinder human well-being, personal growth, and flourishing (Ryan & Deci, 2017). It has been developed over the past 40 years by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. In the past three decades, numerous researchers from across the globe have contributed to the further development and increasing popularity of the theory over various disciplines, ranging from healthcare, education, sports coaching, parenting, developmental psychology, and work organizations (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

SDT presupposes that human beings are active organisms that are naturally equipped for personal growth and development in relation to their environment and integrate life experiences into a coherent sense of self (Deci & Ryan, 2000). SDT scholars call this the organismic perspective (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In terms of the working life, the environment or social context includes the organization within which people work, their colleagues, bosses, peers, subordinates, clients, and suppliers, and the influence this environment has on the individual. When this work context is positive, nourishing, and supportive of the individual, it stimulates personal growth and development and promotes well-being, and supports performance (Gagné & Deci, 2005). Conversely, a work context that is overly dismissive, controlling, and commanding will impair human thriving (Gagné et al., 2014). Various studies have explored the beneficial effects of a supportive work environment (Reeve, 1998) or leadership style (Su & Reeve, 2010) and charted the different consequences in terms of work outcomes, employee well-being, motivation levels, and engagement (Van den Broeck et al., 2016).

Basic Psychological Needs
Studying human motivation from the organismic perspective emphasizes the fundamental dialectic dynamic between the person and his or her social environment. The dynamic interplay and sense-making process between a person and their social context may foster or thwart happiness, meaning, well-being, motivation, or engagement (Deci et al., 1994). For the study of work motivation, therefore, one should focus on the pervasive interdependent dynamic, which explains specific outcomes through, what SDT researchers call, nutrients that, just as in biology, are indispensable to support the growth and essential health of the organism (Ryan & Deci, 2017). SDT distinguishes three such nutrients in the form of three basic psychological needs: Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness. The essence of basic needs is similar to physical needs in that the fulfillment of a basic need supports the observable well-being and general health of the individual (Deci & Ryan, 2000). In contrast, the deprivation of a need leads to measurable decrements (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

The need for autonomy refers to the need to self-author one’s actions, and that one’s behaviors are congruent with one’s authentic interests and sense of volition (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Autonomy supportive managers involve workers in decision-making processes, explain the importance or purpose of tasks, and create space for employees to co-design their work, optimize their work processes, and self-direct (Niemiec & Spence, 2016). Autonomy supportive managers also wholeheartedly engage employees in matters that are important to them, give them a say, and listen well when employees voice concerns (May et al., 1998). It is important to note that self-direction is—by definition—contextual because behaviors and actions happen in a particular social environment and are, therefore, interdependent rather than isolated expressions of complete independence. Thus, autonomy is not the same as independence and does not exist without context (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

The task of an autonomy-supportive leader is to shape a context that nourishes autonomy.  An autonomy-supportive leader will always set a relevant context for what needs to happen, for example, by providing a clear rationale, and being open to having a conversation about why that goal or task is vital (cf. (Fremeaux & Pavageau, 2020). The need for autonomy was the first basic  need specified within SDT and is often explained with reference to personal causation as conceptualized by DeCharms (1968). 

Competence is the basic need to be effective in one’s environment and feel capable of operating within one’s life and work effectively with a sense of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and mastery (Pink, 2009). The need for competence in SDT draws on the work of Robert White (1959), who positioned his idea of competence in response to the then still dominant drive theories of Freud and Hull (Hull, 1943). White (1959) presented competence through the perspective of learning and growth through curiosity, playful exploration, and feedback. Work environments that support the need for competence are places where people can acquire and learn to master new skills that stimulate self-development, that allow space for playful exploration, and where positive feedback is plentiful.

 Relatedness is the basic need of being in close and meaningful social and caring connection with others, be it family, friends, community, or work (Ryan & Deci, 2017). The need for belonging and feeling connected with others is considered a basic human need necessary for flourishing, the deprivation of which has a variety of adverse effects on health and well-being (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Other studies found associations between the quality of satisfying personal relationships with healthy aging (Waldinger & Schulz, 2010) and longevity (Fredrickson, 2013). The need for relatedness is not antithetical to autonomy. Instead, a sense of volition and willingness to enter and maintain personal relationships will facilitate a higher quality of connections. It may induce greater psychological well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Employees who find their basic needs satisfied entertain more meaningful relationships (Deci & Ryan, 2008), have a higher organizational commitment (Niemiec & Spence, 2016), and show higher resilience (Vansteenkiste & Ryan, 2013). They also demonstrate creativity (Grant & Berry, 2011) and enhanced work engagement (Meyer & Gagné, 2008). Additionally, they display a higher capacity to self-motivate and self-organize (Spence & Deci, 2013), and tend to exhibit enhanced performance (Van den Broeck et al., 2016). 

The Motivation Continuum: A Typology of Motivation
In work organizations, the support of the basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness of employees leads to healthy and sustainable motivation (Gagné & Deci, 2005). SDT offers a typology of motivation that distinguishes autonomous motivation, where employees engage in activities with a high level of willingness, volition, and choice (Deci et al., 2017) from more extrinsic types of motivation, where behaviors are managed through external controls such as material and social incentives (Gagné et al., 2014).

The typology of motivation is conceived as a continuum and was instrumental for the studies in this thesis. It emphasizes that leadership-purpose-values, through basic psychological need fulfillment, support autonomous motivation (Deci at al., 2017) and work engagement (Nikolova et al., 2019). Leadership behaviors, a corporate purpose, and organizational values are all examples of extrinsic motives and constitute—a part of—the social context of work. The fulfillment of basic psychological needs helps employees internalize these extrinsic incentives and transform them into their own (Ryan & Deci, 2017). When extrinsic incentives are internalized, employees experience their behavior as self-determined or autonomously regulated (Deci & Ryan, 2000). This experience is associated with higher levels of well-being, creativity, and work engagement and is referred to as autonomous motivation. Conversely, when the work environment thwarts the natural tendency for psychological growth and development through extrinsic pressures and controls, employees tend to experience a type of motivation described as controlling (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Autonomous Motivation.
Employees can motivate themselves when they identify with a corporate purpose or align their values with those of the organization. When one would ask the employee, “why do you do this work?” he or she would answer “because it is important to me” or “because the work aligns with my personal values” (Gagné et al., 2014).  In the same manner, employees can respond to a corporate purpose. They may say, “because I find it important to contribute to this company’s purpose.” Employees with high levels of autonomous motivation tend to take on more initiative and responsibilities willingly (Slemp et al., 2018). They direct more energy towards the work at hand and display higher perseverance in task completion (De Muynck et al., 2017). The leader may actively support the integration process through engaging employees in the vision creation process and granting employees a say in translating the vision into concrete goals, strategies, and actions. As a result, employees may identify with the leader’s vision and make it into their own (Gagné & Deci, 2005; Niemiec & Spence, 2016), which satisfies the need for autonomy.

Furthermore, organizing the integration process in an atmosphere of psychological safety (Edmondson & Lei, 2014) through fostering meaningful interpersonal relations between employees and between employees and their supervisor (Amabile & Kramer, 2012), helps satisfy the need for relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Finally, the need for competence can be fulfilled through opportunities for employees to meaningfully contribute to the department’s goals, optimally deploy their talents and develop their skills. (Gagné & Deci, 2005). The corresponding leadership behavior frequently provides direct reports with positive feedback and actively supports employees’ growth and development through interesting challenges and exciting assignments (Gagné & Deci, 2005).

Controlled Motivation and Amotivation.
Types of motivation that do not satisfy employees’ basic needs are controlled motivation and amotivation. Controlled motivation is a type of motivation in which the incentive for action remains extrinsic to the individual and cannot be internalized or only partly internalized (Van den Broeck et al., 2013). A supervising manager who pushes for results, stresses deadlines, prioritizes the realization of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and focuses on compliance with process controls and progress reporting shapes a work context in which employees may feel controlled. Consequently, employees will comply with the pressures and controls to avoid negative consequences or obtain favorable outcomes (Baard et al.,, 2004). Amotivation is the type of regulation when employees feel their efforts make no difference, their contribution is meaningless, and their work pointless. Amotivation typically occurs when controlling management behavior is pervasive and strongly associates with adverse work outcomes and low work engagement (Gagné et al., 2014).

Extrinsic and controlling goals also tend to lead to more unethical behaviors. People become distracted from intrinsic reasons for doing their work and instead direct their efforts to comply with the external pressure, even if this evokes unethical behaviors (Ryan & Deci, 2017). For instance, Kanze et al. (2020) found that companies encouraging fast and aggressive growth fall victim to significantly more unethical behaviors than firms that allow for a more sober and deliberate path. The authors also found that managers would cut corners to comply with external pressures. Earlier research by Ordonez et al. (2009) identified that the management habit of ambitious goal setting brings additional adverse side effects, such as too narrow goal orientations and distorted risk preferences at the cost of organizational values and culture. Work environments with a focus on economic performance, fast and aggressive growth generally produce high levels of controlled motivation, and subsequent low needs satisfaction (Olafsen et al., 2016). These work environments do not only require intense, controlling management attention but are also associated with adverse behaviors, negative outcomes, inferior performance, and a suboptimal organizational culture.

Engaging Leadership
Leadership is a widely debated and vastly researched topic (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). The number of published studies on leadership has grown exponentially over the past decades. There are many models, schools of thought, and leadership traditions (See Alimo-Metcalfe, 2013, and Berger, 2014, for overviews). Leadership studies tend to be leader-centered and performance-focused (Inceoglu et al., 2018). Leaders’ capacities and ethical reach tend to be overestimated: we like to see leaders as heroic and charismatic and hold implicit high moral expectations of them (Brown, 2018).

The everyday reality of leadership and management contrasts with this idealized view: “Most leaders are neither charismatic nor transformational leaders. They are ordinary men and women in business, government, nonprofits, and communities who sometimes make volitional, moral, and cognitive mistakes” (Ciulla, 2018, p. 464). Ciulla continues, “Leaders do not always have to transform people for them to flourish: Their greater responsibility is to create the social and material conditions under which people can and do flourish” (p. 465). Self-determination theory offers a similar take: Leadership is not about motivating and inspiring the individual or bombarding employees with visions of innovation, change, and disruption. The task of leadership is to create the conditions under which people can motivate themselves and direct their motivational energy towards exciting challenges and the work at hand (Deci & Flaste, 1996).

Engaging leadership (Schaufeli, 2015) draws on the basic psychological needs as defined in self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), for which reason we decided to use this concept. As such, engaging leadership is the first leadership concept that explicitly bases itself on a theory of human motivation and takes a central interest in well-being over performance (Schaufeli, 2015). Individual motivation and enhancement of personal well-being through the fulfillment of basic psychological needs are fundamental notions of engaging leadership. Engaging leadership aims to capture leadership behaviors that are considered autonomy-supportive (Slemp et al., 2018) and associate with the satisfaction of employees’ basic psychological needs. Three aspects of leadership are distinguished: Strengthening, Connecting, and Empowering (Schaufeli, 2015).

Strengthening associates with the need for competence. Through strengthening, leaders support employees to self-develop and grow and optimally deploy their talents within the work environment. They facilitate the joy of being good at something (Pink, 2009). Engaging leaders acknowledge the importance of giving frequent feedback, particularly positive feedback, through which the need for competence is satisfied (Deci & Ryan, 2000)

Connecting aims to satisfy employees’ basic need for relatedness and promotes interpersonal relations, teamwork, and team spirit. It facilitates collaboration between team members and across functions. Engaging supervisor behavior promotes the psychological safety for employees to speak up, voice concerns, and show themselves without any fear of negative consequences (May et al., 2010). Engaging leaders create an atmosphere of belongingness which supports employees in their development on both emotional and cognitive levels (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

Empowering associates with autonomy satisfaction. It emphasizes the need to create space for employees to experience freedom and choice in how to engage in their work and with the organization. Through empowering, leaders offer autonomy support and acknowledge the individual contributions of team members (Reeve, 1998). Engaging leaders actively involve employees in strategic decision-making and promote self-regulation and autonomy, without losing sight of the relevance of a context and structure that allows employees to feel safe and free (Edmondson & Lei, 2014)

In short, engaging leadership facilitates optimal motivation and engagement through socio-contextual support fulfilling employees’ basic psychological needs (Ryan & Deci, 2017). Socio-contextual support refers to the dynamic exchange between the sense-making-individual and her social environment from which interaction social realities are generated. To manage this dialectic positively and engagingly, leaders must be self-aware about the role they play in this dynamic. Leadership perspectives, most notably authentic leadership (Gardner et al., 2011) posit that leader self-awareness is a necessary stepping stone to recognizing employees’ needs and overseeing the impact of one’s thoughts and actions. This impact is considerable. Leaders often fail to realize the power of— what Meindl (1995) describes as—the “romance of leadership”: the intensity with which employees watch their leaders and speculate on every step a leader takes and every word a leader speaks.

The leadership employees crave most may be very commonplace: a leadership that understands what it “takes to create the social and material conditions under which people can and do flourish” (Ciulla, 2018, p. 465) and motivate themselves (Deci & Flaste, 1996) without the drama of charisma, disruption, or transformation. Everyday leadership by ordinary men and women who, with the best of their intentions, aim to make the workplace a nourishing space wherein employees and managers alike may thrive. In the studies comprised in this thesis, we aim to identify engaging leadership as an antecedent to employee motivation and subsequent engagement.

Popular business publications and consultancy reports mention the positive effects of a broader purpose on employee motivation and engagement. Still, empirical research into the psychological effects of a corporate purpose on motivation and engagement is lacking (Parmar, Keevil, & Wicks, 2017). However, more and more studies highlight the benefits of a broader corporate purpose beyond the returns for shareholders. As Malnight (2019) states:

You must ask why does your company exist? What is its impact on society? Why should people want to work for you? In today’s world, the answers to these questions cannot just be money. Companies must recognize they have a bigger role to play, and that they can transform the world around them (p. 2).

Recent business studies provide empirical support for the beneficial impact of purpose on business results. Thakor and Quinn (2013) found that companies pursuing a higher goal have the better case compared to companies primarily seeking profit maximization, and Gartenberg et al. (2016) found that a broader purpose predicts financial performance. Other authors corroborated the business sense of a broader corporate purpose and stressed its current underutilization to drive business (e.g., Keller, 2015).

Stockholder primacy dominates the narrative. Concerns of other stakeholders such as employees, society, or the environment are mostly evaluated against their effects on shareholder value or profit (Berger, 2019). Negative social and environmental impact are externalized to the public domain and not taken up by stockholders or brought within corporate governance (Sjåfjell & Taylor, 2019). In the academic domain, most leadership studies color within the lines of the stockholder doctrine as well (Kempster et al., 2011) and accentuate the effects of leadership on economic performance and organizational efficiency over those of purpose on motivation (Podolny et al., 2004; Sisodia & Gelb, 2019). Even the benefits of work engagement are fitted to economic and financial performance (Schneider et al., 2018). Against this background, it is not surprising that the effects of a broader purpose on motivation and engagement as well-being receive little attention in leadership studies and organizational psychology. Nevertheless, following the general definition of a broader corporate objective, we should find positive effects on motivation and engagement.

The definition of a broader, stakeholder-oriented corporate purpose that we will use in this thesis (Chapter 3) is derived from business studies and business ethics. We define purpose as the meaning and contribution of a firm beyond its financial strategy and performance (Henderson & Steen, 2015). It should provide a fundamental framework to benefit others and reap sustained long-term rewards over short-term interests (Fink, 2019). In Chapter 3, we state that through a broader purpose the organization’s leadership aims to involve all stakeholders and put people first (Sisodia & Gelb, 2019). Also, the aim is to benefit customers (Ellsworth, 2002) integrate the needs of society (Metcalf & Benn, 2012), foster employee well-being and engagement (Bajer, 2016), and include and embrace ethics (Freeman, 1994).

Following self-determination theory and the motivation continuum explained earlier, we expect an appealing corporate purpose—serving a broader interest in the pursuit of a greater good—will support employees to identify with that purpose and therefore facilitate the integration of that corporate purpose with their sense of self (Ryan, 1995). This integration process is essential to nourish autonomous motivation, inspire employee behaviors, and nurture engagement (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Table 1 presents some examples of known and complimented corporations that exemplify living a corporate purpose, such as Patagonia, Morning Star, and Southwest Airlines. The table also presents other organizations’ purposes, some more traditional, like Philips, BSH, Kellogg, and ING. All purposes presented express corporate objectives that sit well with the given definition of a broader purpose. However, most publicly traded companies are known for their commitment to shareholders and value extraction and not for their profound commitment to their purpose and value creation (Mazzucato, 2018). Nor does the organization’s broader purpose guide their every decision or action (Haski-Leventhal, 2020). The public trust in organizations and their leaders for being true to a broader purpose, speaking the truth and behaving ethically is low (George, 2003; Polman, 2016). Nevertheless, we expect that a broader purpose, as we will examine it, will associate positively with motivation and engagement. If this holds, it supports the arguments for the transition from a shareholder perspective’s primacy to a stakeholder perspective (Quinn, 2019), supporting broader sustainability goals, including employee well-being (Mackey & Sisodia, 2014).

Table 1
Some Examples of Corporate Purposes and Mission Statements

Patagonia“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Morning Star“(…) to produce tomato products which consistently achieve the quality and service expectations of our customers in a cost-effective, environmentally responsible manner.”
Starbucks“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Nike “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body, you are an athlete.)”
Tesla“To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
Philips “Improving peoples’ lives through meaningful innovation.”
TED“Spread ideas.”
Kellogg Company “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.”
ING“Empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business.”
Microsoft “(…) to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
BSH“We improve the quality of life at home.”
Southwest Airlines“To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Leading from Values
Values constitute the core of organizational culture (Padaki, 2000), and define “the way we do things around here” (Kofman, 2006) p. 15. Values can positively influence organizational functioning, such as decision-making, accountability, and commitment when they are internally legitimized (Urbany, 2005) and internalized. The internalization of values at the individual level is important for values (Serrat, 2017). First, because internalization positively predicts the enactment of values (Fotaki et al., 2019; Padaki, 2000). Managers who are aware of their employees’ value preferences, who acknowledge these values, and engage in an open dialogue on value preferences are found more successful in implementing a value-based change strategy (Mankoff, 1974). Additionally, employees in departments with clearly defined and communicated organizational values feel more involved in the organization and decision-making and display more participatory behaviors (Fitzgerald & Desjardins, 2004).

Second, and conversely, when value statements are perceived as management hypocrisy internalization is obstructed and met with cynicism, which happens when these statements serve the goal of external symbolism rather than internal integrity (Urbany, 2005). This cynicism is not unfounded since most publicly traded organizations have value statements that sound identical and sometimes share more than just semantic similarity (Anderson & Jamison, 2014). A considerable number of renowned companies have copied parts of other companies’ value statements (Roth, 2013). Since the crisis in corporate ethics and governance in 2001, with the scandals that surfaced with companies such as Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and Ahold, corporate value statements generally include a commitment to integrity (86%), customers (64%), diversity (57%) and entrepreneurship (52%) as the organizations’ principal values (See Table 2).  It remains unclear how these values contribute to the organization’s performance, if at all (Tessema et al., 2019). Moreover, most organizations do not actively involve internal stakeholders, including employees, in the value statement formulation process, although they are the most impacted (Jaakson, 2010). Value statements are a “must-have” (Serrat, 2017) rather than an instrument to promote sustainability or truly embrace ethics (Freeman et al., 2004).

Table 2
Value dimensions of Value Statements of 249 NYSE-listed companies

Social Responsibility42%
Commitment to Integrity86%
Commitment to Stakeholders45%
Commitment to Employees52%
Commitment to Diversity57%
Commitment to Customers64%

Note. Adapted with permission from Tessema et al.,. (2019). Analysis of corporate value statements: an empirical study. International Journal of Corporate Governance, 10(2)

Third, values representing intrinsic orientations, such as contributing to a greater good or acting in service of others’ well-being, are better internalized than extrinsic aspirations of power, status, and money (Fotaki et al., 2019; Kasser & Ryan, 1996). Organizational values that support such intrinsic orientations are positively associated with work engagement (Schreurs et al., 2014). In self-determination theory, intrinsic values cluster around the aspirations or end-goals of self-acceptance, affiliation, and community-feeling (Kasser & Ryan, 1993). Self-acceptance refers to the desire for personal development, growth, and self-direction; Affiliation means to capture the importance of meaningful and intimate personal relationships with family, friends, and colleagues; And Community-Feeling summarizes the desire to contribute to make the world a better place (Kasser & Ryan, 1993). SDT proposes that such intrinsic values are inherently valuable as they are closely associated with the individual’s basic needs satisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

In contrast, extrinsic values focus on achieving materialistic values such as financial success, power, and status (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Financial success refers to the aspiration to achieve wealth and material success. (Kasser & Ryan, 1993); Power refers to attaining a higher hierarchical position and an appealing image (Vansteenkiste et al., 2007); And Status refers to obtaining social recognition (Kasser & Ryan, 1996). Extrinsic values are contingent upon other’s approval and lead people away from those activities that are inherently need satisfying. When extrinsic aspirations outweigh intrinsic orientations, individuals report lower levels of personal and physical well-being, such as higher emotional exhaustion, short-lived satisfaction after goal-attainment, increased turn-over intentions (Vansteenkiste et al., 2007), and adverse work motivation (Kasser, 2016).

In Chapter 4, we will argue that engaging leaders should pay close attention to employees’ intrinsic preferences and how they perceive the organization’s values. Leadership affects how employees perceive their organization’s values (van Knippenberg, 2018). Intrinsic values can be internalized and lead to positive outcomes, but in contrast with what most value statements claim, extrinsic values prevail in many organizations. The resulting tension for employees is a given: “Anyone who has worked for any length of time in a business organization has been subjected to (or even involved in making) choices that conflict with what he or she ’knows to be right” (Brown, 1976, p. 22).

In Table 3, we present four examples of value statements of well-known and very different organizations. The purpose is to illustrate what actual value statements look like, not to support or assess them in any way. It neither informs whether these organizations enact their values nor how their employees perceive them. The values study presented in Chapter 4 illustrates how leadership affects employees’ value perceptions and subsequent motivation and engagement. The study in this chapter underscores the essence of leadership behaviors for value perceptions over the bare value statements themselves. Just as with purpose, values are as strong and influential as that employees and leaders embrace and live them (Bekke, 2006; Fotaki et al., 2019).

Table 3
Four Examples of Corporate Value Statements of Four Different Organizations

Note. The values above are selected from the companies’ websites as accessed on June 17, 2020

Work Engagement
Work engagement is a central concern to organizations. Employees who are engaged with their work tend to experience work as fun, lose track of time when working, and perform better (Bakker & Demerouti, 2013). Such engaged workers show high levels of energy (Schaufeli et al., 2002) and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977). Additionally, they display enhanced well-being (Peters et al., 2018) and report a healthier work-life balance (Kossek et al., 2014). The rising importance of work to provide in the search for meaning (Ciulla, 2000) and the competition between organizations to source talented and motivated employees (Delaney & Royal, 2017) have added to the centrality of work engagement for organizations. Still, a considerable number of consultancy reports mention the relatively poor state of work engagement. For example, Mann and Harter (2016) speak of a worldwide employee work engagement crisis, and Gallup (2017) reports that less than 20% of employees are engaged with their work. Additionally, today’s work environments often do not fit the need of younger generations, who are known to bring different value preferences to the workplace (Bersin, 2015; Eversole et al., 2012).

A robust body of research has developed over the past two decades identifying various antecedents to engagement, such as leadership (Carasco-Saul et al., 2015), work climate (Bakker, 2011), and organizational support (Saks, 2006). Macey and Schneider (2008) positioned work engagement as a key to competitive advantage and business performance, other scholars even to long-term sustainable performance (e.g., Renee Baptiste, 2008). Because of the width and depth of studies into work engagement on a global scale by countless researchers, the studies presented in this thesis use work engagement as a validated and trusted outcome measure.

The Current Thesis
The present thesis directs the lens on motivation at work from the angles of leadership, purpose, and values. The overall research question is to what extent motivation, in terms of basic psychological needs, explains the association between leadership-purpose-values and work engagement? In Chapter 2, we examine the concept of engaging leadership. Chapter 3 tests the beneficial impact of a broader corporate purpose. Chapter 4 studies how employees’ value perceptions are impacted by engaging leadership and its associations with needs satisfaction and engagement. Chapter 5 tests how a leadership development intervention based on engaging leadership impacts business performance, motivation, and engagement. An overview and integration of these studies is depicted in Figure 1 below. 


Figure 1
Summary of the Overall Model of the Studies

Note. Chapter 2 examines the relationship between engaging leadership and work engagement through the satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs. Chapter 3 looks into the effects of purpose on engagement through motivation. Chapter 4 explores the role of engaging leadership and value perceptions and the subsequent effects on need satisfaction and engagement. Also note that value perceptions are explored in various roles: an antecedent, a mediator, and a result. Types of motivation are examined as both an outcome and a mediator.

Chapter 2 studies the concept of engaging leadership and its effects on work motivation and engagement via the satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs. We hypothesized that basic psychological needs mediate the relationship between both positive and negative outcomes. Specifically, we expected that engaging leadership would positively affect motivation and engagement through satisfying basic needs, and that need frustration would exhibit a negative association. Earlier studies also examined the mediational role of need satisfaction between transformational leadership (e.g., (Hetland et al., 2015; Kovjanic et al., 2012) or engaging leadership (Rahmadani et al., 2019) and work engagement. The current study (Figure 2) replicates these studies with a work population from another industry and country. Additionally, the impact of needs frustration on work engagement is studied in a leadership context, which has not been done before. The present study also examines the associations and mediating roles of both satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs in one overall structural model.

Chapter 3 tests the relationships between corporate purpose, motivation, and engagement. We selected a real corporate mission and vision that matched the definition of a higher purpose and expected it to affect employee motivation and engagement positively. Furthermore, the purpose was expected to predict work engagement, and we expected autonomous motivation to mediate that relationship (Figure 3).

Chapter four addresses the effect of engaging leadership on employees’ value perceptions and the subsequent impact on work engagement via need satisfaction. We expected, in line with previous studies (e.g., Van den Broeck et al., 2014; Schreurs et al., 2014), that intrinsic value orientations relate positively to need satisfaction and engagement. In contrast, we expected extrinsic orientations to associate with the same variables negatively. Additionally, we expected engaging leadership to relate positively with intrinsic values and engagement (Figure 4), and we hypothesized that autonomy satisfaction would mediate the path from leadership to engagement.

Chapter 5 reports the approach, design, and results of a quasi-experimental intervention study testing the business impact of an engaging leadership development program that focused on psychological well-being through the satisfaction of basic psychological needs (Figure 5). The 8-months intervention program taught the concepts of engaging leadership and basic need satisfaction to midlevel team leaders of a multinational organization. Senior leadership co-created the program with participating team leaders. It aimed to show positive business results on a pre-selected key performance indicator (KPI) and decreased employee absenteeism. Parallel to the business KPIs, the changes in autonomy satisfaction and intrinsic motivation were measured. The chapter discloses the program design, compares the effects to a relevant control group, evaluates the lessons learned, and provides practical suggestions. The main aim of this chapter is to substantiate the potential real-world impact of engaging leadership and basic need satisfaction, as examined in the previous chapters through a practical step-by-step approach. Purpose and values were not considered in the intervention study.


 Figure 2
The Research Model on Engaging Leadership


Figure 3
The Research Model on the Purpose Study

Figure 4
The Research Model for Value Orientations in Chapter 4

Figure 5
Program design of the Leadership Intervention Study