Entrepreneurial Autonomy and its Dynamics

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Abstract

Founding and owning an independent business does not automatically provide the owner/founder with autonomy. Autonomy-motivated entrepreneurs must often make an effort to achieve and maintain autonomy. The aim of this research is to investigate the experience of autonomy, its variations over time, and how it is affected by a range of internal and external conditions as well as the actions of the entrepreneur. The research design utilises a qualitative methodology, asking 61 business owner/founders to respond to a range of vignettes that depict autonomy-related tensions. The results indicate that whether a business owner actively experiences autonomy is best assessed by not only asking for the degree of decisional freedom he or she currently enjoys, but also whether that degree of freedom is chosen voluntarily. Other main findings are that customers regularly represent challenges to autonomy, whereas business partners are often seen to enhance it. The results reveal various autonomy dynamics, showing movements between currently exercised, temporarily sacrificed, and involuntarily lost decisional freedoms. These movements are influenced by a range of factors, including the importance of particular customers or assignments, the phase in the business life cycle, and the financial performance of the business.

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