David McClelland was a psychological theorist. I’m going to briefly describe his work on Achievement Motivation Theory. Similar to the boost that knowing how to read body language gives you, simply being aware of this theory (which has been indirectly validated by a thousand subsequent pieces of research) gives you a useful framework for interpreting the behaviour and motivations of co-workers, clients and even yourself.

Every individual is driven to varying extents by one of three motivators:
1) Achievement
2) Power
3) Affiliation

These motivators ALL exist to varying extents in each individual, and are socially acquired or learned. How people act is to a significant extent driven by the combination of these attributes, both based on individual and relative strengths. It’s interesting to note that most people aren’t consciously aware of what drives them, and yet the combination of these motivators that you hold significantly impacts how you work with others and the types of roles you’re likely to succeed in.

Achievement oriented people are driven to master complex challenges, to find solutions, overcome goals, and they love getting feedback on the level of success. Standards of excellence, precise goals and clear roles are what motivates these people. This results in a non-conscious concern for achieving excellence through individual effort. They usually set challenging goals for themselves, assume personal responsibility for accomplishment and take calculated risks for achieving these goals. They are very effective in leading task oriented groups and do well in entrepreneurial roles. Simply put, they love to achieve, and to measure that achievement.

Power oriented people want to control and influence, they have a need to win arguments, and love to persuade and prevail. This motivator is typically and not surprisingly strong in executives. In fact, when the power motivator exceeds that of achievement (which can be an individual focused trait), it is predictive of leadership effectiveness. The desire to influence results in a sustained focus on leadership. Howver, this motivator needs to be constrained to a level where self-promotion doesn’t have negative consequences for the organization. This motive is activated when the individual is allowed to have an impact, impress those in power or beat competitors.

Affiliation oriented people have a strong desire to belong. They have a deep concern for relationships, they strive to reduce uncertainty, and they love teamwork. They tend to be less assertive, submissive, and tend to be more dependent on others. In management positions, too great of a need for affiliation can surface in behaviours such as: avoidance for disciplining subordinates, favoritism, submissiveness, and reluctance to hold others accountable. These leaders are motivated by what they can accomplish with people they know and trust.

So think about what drives you.

What drives those around you?

Do you have a better idea of how to interact with other leaders now that you know this?


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Categories: Strategic Planning