Need for autonomy; one of the competencies of a business owner

need for autonomy

In this 4 minutes blog, I’ll tell you what the need for autonomy is, how it is and isn’t a synonym for independence, and an example of coaching a small business owner.

Table of contents

Of the 1,000,000 people who have taken the entrepreneur test, E-Scan, “doing work that I like” is number one (36%). That is what people say is the most important reason to start their own business. That is entrepreneurship based on a passion. It is at least a positive motivation.

A less positive reason for starting a business is the second most chosen answer. As runner-up with 34%, people chose: “Being free and independent.” That could come from positive and negative motivation.

In research, 124,980 business owners were asked about their personal goals to have and run a business of their own. A forced-choice out of 5 answers shows the following results:

Negative because people are frustrated because they are dependent on unemployment benefits or because they cannot work under a boss. Positive because they want to be free.

So, the motive is an important source of the need for autonomy. The most crucial question is: “Where does this come from?” Read this blog for how you can increase motivation.

The need for autonomy

The psychological need for autonomy is based on the determination theory. This theory explains human motivation and personality. It deals with the motivation behind choices people make without the influence of others.

The need for autonomy is a key competency of an entrepreneur. It is mainly a need that comes deep within; a desire for freedom. A positive motivation. But, if that implies someone cannot work together with others, it can turn into a negative motivation.

However, negative motives don’t have to be bad. Some manage to become very successful with it. Many inventors start with pure frustration. Take a look at Steve Jobs.

Do you want to decide what you do? Or do you want to do things your own way, but you stay happy if someone else gave you that assignment? In other words, is the motivation internal or external? Do you want – no, do you have – to go your own way, or are you okay with following someone else’s orders?

Some people have that basic psychological urge to make their own decisions. They want to make up their own mind, be their own boss. While others feel comfortable when someone else is calling the shots.

Need for autonomy definition

Independence is a synonym for the need for autonomy, but it is not the same. Autonomy is the need and ability of a person to make their own decisions, while independence means showing a desire for freedom and not being subject to control by others.

The need for autonomy is often the conscious or unconscious reason why some people choose to start a business. The need to make their own decisions and do what they want is very strong.

Successful entrepreneurs have a desire to be autonomous. They can act independently of others, make their own decisions, love problem solving, and successfully complete their tasks on their own.

Less successful entrepreneurs need support or aid and are inclined to leave the decision-making, more often than not, to others.

Competencies of a small business owner

A competency is the ability to do something successfully, like doing a good job. For a business owner, his “job role” is to run a business successfully. What success means to the small business owner, is entirely up to him. That’s the freedom of entrepreneurship, but with freedom comes responsibility and for that, he needs competencies.

Skills and competencies are not the same. Although often used interchangeably, these terms have different meanings. A competency is made out of 4 aspects: motivation, characteristics or traits, skills, and knowledge, and experience. So, knowledge and skills are a part of a competency.

If we look at the process of entrepreneurship, it gives you an idea of what competencies entrepreneurs must possess. The definition of self-employed entrepreneurship is:

Spotting opportunities, exploiting them, and creating value for customers and – in the end – provide an income for the self-employed person.

To fulfill these tasks successfully, a small business owner needs to make sure he has covered other core competencies, that he is lacking.

So, he doesn’t necessarily need to have all of the important entrepreneurial skills and traits. E-Scan measures all those competencies. Take a free trial to see for yourself. How to complement them is the key question.

Development of the need for autonomy

As you can clearly see in the image, it is not easy to develop. On average there is an absolute increase, but too small to be significant. However, in individual coaching sessions, the business coach was able to help the small business owner grow his need for autonomy.

True, this is one of the most challenging competencies to develop. Therefore the best and most effective way to develop the need for autonomy is by working with an entrepreneur coach. Of course, some people managed to become more independent on their own. However, most fall back quickly to their old behavior. 

If you want to do it yourself, which is, of course, a good step towards greater independence, the following strategy could help you. Self-employment has a positive correlation with self-confidence. If you don’t dare to start with your strengths or your own idea, you will never learn to trust it. It’s really just a matter of doing. And by falling and getting up again – with a little more experience – you increase your independence.

Example of business owner coaching

Starting and running a business implies that the business owner is autonomous. However, that doesn’t mean he is independent too. The need for autonomy is not the same as independence. To work effectively, he may need and have to rely on others more than ever before. 

An employee has one boss. The owner of a small business has many bosses – customers that they must keep satisfied. If your need for autonomy is high, this can be a problem. Let’s see how that worked out for a small business owner after the help of her business coach.

“My company did not run well, and after much hesitation, I went to a business coach. After two sessions I changed coach because he was not good enough. With the second coach, it was a feeling of coming home. At that time, she was exactly what I needed.”

“After 13 years, my relationship had ended. That is why she chose to talk about finding myself again first. She let me do an E-Scan and that immediately made a lot clear: a high need for autonomy. I think that is mainly due to my relationship breakdown and that I had to be very independent in that. And, of course, this also had an effect on running my business.”

“My coach taught me a lot. Her most important lessons have been: that you can trust others without losing your independence and how my earlier patterns hampered my relationships with my customers.”

Entrepreneurship is not lonely but alone. As an entrepreneur, you are ultimately on your own.

Dr. Martijn Driessen

Read more about the difference between skills, abilities, knowledge, and competencies.