David McClelland's 3-Need Theory
Achievement, Affiliation, Power
McClelland's approach is not particularly associated with a theoretical perspective, but identifies three needs important in the workplace. The presence of these needs can be examined in various ways, but McClelland's drew upon Murray's use of projective pictures and story telling as a way of identifying the position of these needs in a leader.

Power Needs (nPOW)

Yukl (1989) reviewed the results of McClelland's theory in predicting leadership. Power stories reflect influencing others, defeating an opponent or competitor, winning and argument, or attaining a position of greater authority. Persons with low need for power may lack the assertiveness and self confidence necessary to organize and direct group activities effectively.

A high need for power may be expressed as "personalized power" or "socialized power." People with high personalized power may have little inhibition or self control, and they exercise power impulsively. Correlated with this are tendencies to be rude, excessive use of alcohol, sexual harassment, and collecting symbols of power (e.g., big offices, desks, fancy cars, etc.). When they give advice or support, it is with strategic intent to further bolster their own status. They demand loyalty to their leadership rather than to the organization. When the leader leaves the organization there is likely disorder and breakdown of team morale and direction.

Socialized power need is most often associated with effective leadership. These leaders direct their power in socially positive ways that benefit others and the organization rather than only contributing to the leader's status and gain. They seek power because it is through power that tasks are accomplished. They are more hesitant to use power in a manipulative manner, are less narcissistic and defensive, accumulate fewer material possessions or symbols of power or status, have a longer range perspective, and are more willing to receive consultation and advice. They realize that power must be distributed and shared, and that everyone must have a sense of influence over their own jobs. Effective leaders empower others who use that power to enact and further the leader's vision for the organization. For technical managers, need for achievement was predictive of advancement through lower levels of management, but power was predictive of higher levels of attainment.

Achievement Need (nACH)

Achievement is reflected in stories about attaining challenging goals, setting new records, successful completion of difficult tasks, and doing something not done before.

High need achievers prefer a job in which success depends on effort and ability rather than on chance and factors beyond their control (locus of control). They prefer tasks that enable them to exercise their skills and initiation in problem solving. They want frequent and specific feedback about performance so they can enjoy the experience of making progress toward objectives. People scoring high are often found in jobs such as sales representative, real estate agent, producer of entertainment events, and owner-manager of small business. For managers in large organizations, moderate to high achievement is secondary to higher power needs. If achievement is dominant, the manager may try to achieve objectives alone rather than through team development.

Affiliation Need (nAFF)

Affiliation themes are revealed in stories about establishing or restoring close and friendly relationships, joining groups, participating in pleasant social activities, and enjoying shared activities with family or friends. It reflects behaviors toward others that are cooperative, supportive, and friendly and which value belonging and conformity to the group. They obtain great satisfaction from being liked and accepted by others, and prefer to work with others who prefer group harmony and cohesion (e.g.., relationship-centered, Jungian Type F's).

A person low in affiliation tends to be a loner who is uncomfortable socializing with others except for a few close friends or family (introversion?). They may lack motivation or energy to maintain high social contacts in networking, group presentations, public relations, and building close personal relations with peers and subordinates so necessary for most managers.

Those with strong nAFF are reluctant to let work interfere with harmonious relationships. Moderate nAFF is related to effective management, since strong needs often lead to avoidance of unpopular decisions, permitting exceptions to rules, and showing favoritism to friends. This often leads to subordinates feeling confused about rules, playing to the manager's likes, and becoming anxious about what might happen next (inequity).

Combinations for Managerial Success

For managers in large organizations, power is most related to success, promotion, and accomplishment of objectives. Achievement and affiliation follow in that order, and are useful in creating a challenging and team spirited work environment. Greater career advancement and higher performance ratings are often related to both high power and achievement. For entrepreneurial managers (e.g., owner-managers of small, entrepreneurial organizations or autonomous subsidiaries of large organizations), high achievement is most obvious, followed by moderately high power and low affiliation. In summary:
 
 

Large Organizations Entrepreneurial small organizations or autonomous subsidiaries of large organizations
nPOW (high)
nACH (mod)
nAFF (mod)
nACH (high)
nPOW (mod)
nAFF (low)

 

In the figure below, each of the three needs can be over- or under-expressed, thereby leaving the leader in a position of potential abuse or insufficiency. In most cases, moderate to high ratings in these areas are desirable rather than excessively high or low ones.

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McClelland, D. C. (1975). Power: The inner experience. New York: Irvington

McClelland, D. C., & Burnham, D. H. (1976). Power is the great motivator. Harvard Business Review, 54(2), 100-110.

Yukl, G. A. (1989). Leadership in organizations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.



last updated 2-24-00
David X. Swenson PhD
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