The drive to achieve is tough to resist. Most people in Western cultures are taught from early childhood to value achievement. For some people, the drive seems innate. They don’t just know achievement is important, they feel it. Accomplishment is a natural high for them. Just ask admitted overachievers and they’ll tell you that they start to feel really good in those moments when achievement drive kicks into high gear and they feel a mounting sense of accomplishment. I can tell you as an overachiever, I feel the same way.
David McClelland, the late Harvard psychologist, spent much of his career studying motivation and how it affects leadership behavior. He identified achievement as meeting or exceeding a standard of excellence or improving personal performance, and identified it as one of three internal drivers that explain how we behave. The other two are affiliation (meaning maintaining close personal relationships) and power (being strong and influencing or having an impact on others). He also defined power in two forms. The first was personalized, where the leader’s strength comes from controlling others and making them feel weak. The second was socialized, where the leader’s strength comes from empowering people. Studies show that great charismatic leaders are highly motivated by socialized power, while personalized power is associated with the exploitation of subordinates.
In my view, all three motives are present to some extent in everyone. Although we’re not usually conscious of them, they give rise to needs and concerns that lead to certain behaviors. Meeting those needs gives us a sense of satisfaction and energizes us, so we keep repeating the behaviors, whether or not they result in the outcomes we desire. This logic is at the core of my approach to Leadership Development, which is centered around character, behavior, attitudes, beliefs and commitments, or Personal Leadership Effectiveness.™
McClelland believed that achievement was the most critical to organizational success. He also recognized there was a downside, as well. The overwhelming desire to achieve motivates tendencies to cheat and cut corners and to leave people out of the loop. Some high achievers are so fixated on finding a shortcut to the goal, that they may not be too particular about the means they use to reach it. I reflected on this downside in more detail on my YouTube Channel this week.
In later work, McClelland argued that the most effective leaders were primarily motivated by socialized power. They channeled their efforts into helping others be successful. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve lamented of late on many occasions that most of the examples of leadership we see around us today in every sector (government, church, education, Business, Community, etc.) appear to be very much power motivated with the singular objective of control over everyone and everything.
It’s really simple to me. There are only two leadership styles: serving others or self-serving. We’re seeing way more of the latter.
Weekly Leadership Insight
What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?
If you clearly define and understand what your contribution can be both personally and professionally, you’ll significantly enhance your attitudes, beliefs and commitments toward these defined areas, which will enable you to live a full life of impact and satisfaction, not one of self servitude.
Begin today clearly defining why you exist. Close the door to the past and focus on a better future. By doing this simple but profound step, you’ll begin to progress toward achieving your personal and professional goals.
Quote of the Week:
“Authentic success depends on what you do with you”