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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

Are you driven by power, achievement, or affiliation?

Why are some people motivated by getting things done while others thrive in environments where they exert power and influence? The more we understand the drivers of human behavior, the better leaders we can all become. McClelland[1] defined these driving forces as implicit motives. They are sub-conscious drivers of behavior, which means that we are often unaware that they have caused a particular reaction[2] or directed our behaviors, influencing long-term outcomes in our lives. They are usually established early on in life and are more difficult to change as we grow into our careers. Three social motives drive human behavior, according to McClelland[1]: the need for achievement, affiliation, or power. In this blog post, we invite you to reflect on your inner motives and advance your pursuit of self-awareness.

The Need for Achievement

The primary driver of achievement-oriented individuals is to meet or exceed standards of excellence and/or improve performance.[2] People high in achievement are detail-oriented, focused, efficient. Think about that colleague you have that will get things done no matter what! They are concerned with outperforming others when they represent excellence and focus on meeting self-imposed standards.[2] They want to accomplish something new and innovative. These individuals often like to work by themselves and are usually high on grit, which means they can plan and pursue long-term objectives[3].

The Need for Affiliation

Individuals high on affiliation have strong interpersonal skills and seek to avoid disruption of relationships in the workplace. They can establish, restore, or maintain close relationships, and enjoy being liked and accepted. They focus on the impact actions and policies have on employees and have a strong need for social contact and belongingness.[4] They value and are oriented toward group memberships and relationships with others.[4]

The Need for Power

People high in power are interested in "the influence game."[5] This means they want to make an impact and are concerned with impressing people and the world at large. They are also focused on their reputation, positioning, and strength. They perform powerful actions, including trying to control other people's behavior or conditions of their lives.[2] They may arouse both positive and negative emotions in their colleagues and teams.

Power can be used in a very positive way for the good of the organization. It can drive and advance the group's and the company's goals. However, most of us have had a boss or colleague who was excessively proud and self-confident and would do anything to achieve their personal goals. One of the biggest dangers for organizations and employees is the leader's use of power for personal advancement regardless of what is best for the team or the company. Some people are so driven by power that they will do anything to get what they want, even if it means by-passing colleagues or taking full credit for their team's ideas and contributions. When the power goes to the leader's head, everyone will lose.

We all need to be aware of what influences and drives our decisions and choices, particularly when we are in leadership positions that will affect the lives of those we lead. Regardless of our culture, age, or gender, we all have these three motivating drivers, but one will always stand out or be dominant. Once we understand which one is our main driver, we can work on developing the other two so that we can navigate different challenges that will require different motives.

Have you ever considered what drives your decisions as a leader? How balanced are these motives in you? Leave a comment here or send us an email at

Dr. Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.


[1] McClelland, D. C. (1985). How motives, skills, and values determine what people do. American psychologist, 40(7), 812. [2] McAllaster, C. (2018). Theory and Contemporary Thought in Leadership. Rollins Crummer Graduate School of Business. [3] Duckworth, A. L., & Eskreis-Winkler, L. (2013). True grit. Aps Observer, 26(4). [4] Wiesenfeld, B. M., Raghuram, S., & Garud, R. (2001). Organizational identification among virtual workers: The role of need for affiliation and perceived work-based social support. Journal of Management, 27(2), 213-229. [5] McClelland, D. C., & Boyatzis, R. E. (1982). Leadership motive pattern and long-term success in management. Journal of Applied psychology, 67(6), 737.

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