Is It Power or Achievement That Motivates Your Best Managers?

When speaking about filling management posts, it seems that more often than not managers are treated as a homologous group instead of individuals who need to be precisely fitted to the variables governing a work situation. This has lead to stereotyping the role of management – expecting every manager to be team leader as well as a team player – what we refer to as a “people person”.

Is that stereotype a correct one? Can we apply it across the board to our management hiring? On both counts the answer is “No,” and I will explain why with some of the research we have built into our Maximizing Human Performance workshop.

More than twenty-five years ago David McClelland, a professor of psychology at Harvard, researched and wrote about power as a management motivator, distinguishing the need to influence others from the need to achieve. McClelland found that managers who are driven primarily by a need to achieve (OMS Factors: High A combined with Low S) want to do too much themselves, place too much focus on their personal improvement, and require too much concrete short-term feedback on how they are doing to be successful in more complex organizational management roles. Instead, in these roles managers who are driven to influence others, to organize their efforts, and to make them feel a sense of spirit in working as part of a team performed measurably better (OMS Factors: High A combined with High S).

It was also McClelland who discovered that there are actually different types of power motivation, and this produced an even more precise way of differentiating management styles. Specifically, he found that controlled actions – inhibition (OMS Factors: High Emotional Containment combined with slightly Low D) – produce a more altruistic and socialized power motivation in contrast to individuals with less inhibition (OMS Factor: Low E – Emotional Containment) and less self discipline (OMS Factor: Low D), whose behavior is more personally motivated and more self-centered. During the past several years, with Enron, World Com, and a host of other examples of managers behaving badly, we have seen ample evidence of the very high price that organizations and their shareholders pay for this latter type of unrestrained behavior.

So, what does this mean to you? In 98% of business organizations, smaller and private companies primarily, but possibly in any organization…

  • where managers need to be more personally involved with tasks and more tangible matters,
  • where personal accomplishment and ability may be more effective than delegation,
  • where there is more to do personally and less need to influence others to do,
  • where relationships are more simple and less politicized, and
  • where there is less divergence to be brought together and less conflict to be managed,

the Achievement-motivated manager is likely a better fit with the job and the culture who will perform better over time and stay longer.

As the English so aptly say, “There are horses for courses.” When we fill management posts we need to be keenly aware of the realities of the day-to-day activities, and really focus on what the person is expected to do and how he or she is to do it successfully within the organization’s culture. JAX, which most of our clients are using to identify job behavioral requirements, can be an excellent tool for introducing more clarity into this job analysis process. Equally importantly, assessment techniques and interviewing questions must be constructed to measure the desired behaviors rather than some stereotyped set of expectations that may have little relationship with the real job.

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