Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


5 Leadership Strategies Not Taught in Business School

Educators use adaptable research-based strategies that can optimize business.

Key points

  • Autonomy-supportive instructional strategies can mediate business challenges.
  • Cross-business strategies should support intrinsic motivation and the internalization of company values.
  • Using a repertoire of development strategies fosters inclusion and diversity leading to greater workforce creativity and innovation.
Source: Lukasbieri/Pixabay

Some recent examples of cross-disciplinary discoveries include using electric circuit knowledge to design life-saving medical equipment (Premchand et al., 2016), applying lessons from cognitive science to maximize grocery sales (Shiv & Fedorikhin, 1999), and even something as improbable as studying the life of squirrels (Regan et al., 2022) to boost knowledge of intergalactic space travel. In some cases, entire fields (e.g., behavioral economics) are based on the application of cross-disciplinary knowledge. However, few, if any, professions consider the potential overlap between teaching styles and leadership effectiveness.

One crossover leadership approach supported by decades of education and psychology research is the use of autonomy-supportive instructional behaviors (ASIBs, Reeve & Cheon, 2021). The goal of ASIB is to cultivate intrinsic motivation in others, while concurrently helping individuals to internalize important organizational values. In other words, ASIBs are designed to empower individuals and to create a culture of inclusiveness whereby the individuals, whether students, staff, or executives, maximize their performance potential.

ASIBs are based on the premises of self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2020), which indicates that optimal human performance is achieved only when basic human needs are satisfied. One critical need that is crucial for optimal performance is autonomy. Fostering autonomy means the boss acts like a coach allowing the person to not feel coerced or manipulated as they try to complete their job. Cultivating autonomy means using specific ASIB strategies that include, but are not limited to, the following:

Taking the Employee’s Perspective

Sometimes your goals are different than those of the person you are trying to direct or persuade. Taking the other's perspective means it’s not all about you, and what the other person thinks actually matters! Autonomy support starts by adopting a curious, open, and flexible attitude toward diverse perspectives. Be sure to avoid the “me vs. them” mentality by probing for other viewpoints before expressing your own perspective. Next, let others know that you care about their ideas, are paying attention to their concerns, and are listening to their suggestions.

How to implement: Use the phrase, “If I understand you correctly…,” then repeat what you heard. Second, say, “For just a minute, let’s switch roles.” Role reversal allows the leader to easily appreciate the alternative perspective. Next, provide others with pertinent information while minimizing the use of pressures and demands. Based on the responses, shift your focus by subordinating your own methods, without compromising attainment of the business objective.

Presenting Assignments in Need-Satisfying Ways

People perform poorly when they feel manipulated or controlled. Thus, the ideal way to cultivate autonomy is by offering choices as to how work goals are accomplished. When offering choice, the leader gives the worker the opportunity to decide for themselves how to solve the business challenge. Choice cultivates autonomy satisfaction because individuals can consider work goals from an internal perspective. Their interests, values, and beliefs dictate how they go about satisfying the leadership request and they do not feel pressured or intimidated.

How to implement: When making requests to others, don’t mandate anything. First, present the business challenge and ask the employee’s opinion on how they will go about solving the problem. Next, probe for ways an employee can take ownership for the intended direction and output. Last, give authentic support for the intended solution and don’t send mixed signals.

Providing Explanatory Rationales

Many times, demands are thrust upon us without an explanation as to why. The “because I say so” mentality is an autonomy killer because the person receiving the directive feels forced to comply and often cannot understand or appreciate the need for the directive. When leaders explain their thinking to others, it creates a sense of relevance and personal value for the individual. While the request can still seem bothersome or unnecessary, knowing request reasoning takes need-killing issues off the table.

How to implement: Say things such as, “reaching this goal will help us by…, or “Achieving this outcome will benefit you by....” When individuals can respond to requests from an internal perspective knowing the personal benefits of compliance, even the most mundane or ludicrous requests can be completed with enthusiasm (if for nothing else than to get the job done).

Acknowledging Negative Feelings

Let’s face reality: Every work request won’t be need-satisfying. Some job aspects are boring, lack personal relevance, or are tedious. While we often cannot control vocational monotony, we can as leaders recognize the negative feelings and acknowledge that those feelings are warranted and legitimate. By acknowledging the feelings, we create a bond with the person who must endure the task. Not every task will be perceived as useful, but when there is agreement and discussion, acceptance of the mundane is more likely.

How to implement: Use words like, “You are right this is dull but…” or “Do you have a better way to accomplish the goal?” Either of these responses shows empathy for the person and validates to the individual that work is not always a bed of roses.

Using Invitational Language

How often have you had demands placed on you using the words, “you must,” “get it done,” or “I need it now?” These types of demands alienate individuals, and the forced compliance totally disrupts autonomy satisfaction. When leaders make demands, both the content and the tone of the request matter. The last message a leader wants to convey is the anticipation of resistance or noncompliance with the request. Instead of saying, “I know you won’t like this” or “I have some bad news,” use language that isn’t controlling or negative.

How to implement: While using a slow pace and a lower voice pitch, choose nonconfrontational words, such as “would you consider...” or “might it be possible if…” followed by a probing question as to how to complete the task under the trying circumstances.

Overall, use of these strategies described promotes diversity and inclusion because all ideas are valid and worthy of consideration. By using autonomous approaches, the leader shows value for diverse perspectives, considers all options, and operates with the contingency that no ideas are foolish, implausible, or out of consideration. Instilling an environment of inclusionary ideas is a dramatic step toward showing that leadership behavior goes far beyond traditional hierarchies and is more about subtle persuasion that instills positive feelings in others.


Premchand, R. K., Sharma, K., Mittal, S., Monteiro, R., Dixit, S., Libbus, I., ... & Anand, I. S. (2016). Extended follow-up of patients with heart failure receiving autonomic regulation therapy in the ANTHEM-HF study. Journal of Cardiac Failure, 22(8), 639-642.

Reeve, J., & Cheon, S. H. (2021). Autonomy-supportive teaching: Its malleability, benefits, and potential to improve educational practice. Educational Psychologist, 56(1), 54-77.

Regan, M. D., Chiang, E., Liu, Y., Tonelli, M., Verdoorn, K. M., Gugel, S. R., ... & Assadi-Porter, F. M. (2022). Nitrogen recycling via gut symbionts increases in ground squirrels over the hibernation season. Science, 375(6579), 460-463.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 61, 101860.

Shiv, B., & Fedorikhin, A. (1999). Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making. Journal of Consumer Research, 26(3), 278-292.

More from Bobby Hoffman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Bobby Hoffman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today