Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Does Personality Drive Motivation or Vice Versa?

Motivation: the process by which activities are started, directed, and continued so that physical or psychological needs or wants are met

Sometimes motivation becomes intertwined with the idea of personality (another "series" to follow on this blog). One of the more prominent motivational theories that appears to closely resemble a personality theory is David McClelland's needs theory. This theory states that there are some people who are driven by one, or a combination of, three distinct needs.

Need for Affiliation: an individual's need, desire, preference for socializing with other individuals. Someone with a high need for affiliation feels lost if left alone for too long. In some cases, the extreme need for socialization will outweigh any other motivators. It would not be uncommon for a person with a high need for affiliation to go to a movie they don't want to see or go out to eat even if they are not hungry if their friends are going. These individuals may sacrifice other comforts in order to satisfy their need to interact with other people. They may even associate with "despised" individuals if there appear to be no other options for socialization. In a team environment, these individuals tend to be the peace-keepers. They may not have a preference for what or how work is done, so long as they can get everyone working together.

Need for Power: an individual's need, desire, preference for being the one in control of situations and others. There are actually two sides to the power coin. The high need for power with a "pawns" orientation wants power for the sake of power. This is a Machiavellian individual who does not care how much they are liked so long as people do as they say. This is the darker side of need for power that sometimes turns people off of the idea of being in control. In a team situation, the "pawns" power would create a hierarchy structure that may accomplish nothing but frustration as the "leader" complains that no one does anything and the other team members complain that the "leader" won't let them contribute to the project. On the flip side, the high need for power with an "origins" orientation wants power so that they can maintain a smooth chain of command and power transition when the time comes. The "origins" power generates a leader who takes charge because they know they have the leadership skills and abilities that are needed, while at the same time they are training their predecessor so that the leadership can be handed over to a competent individual who will keep things running smoothly once the time comes to move on. In a team situation, the "origins" leader is the one who creates a game plan and then delegates responsibilities as needed. They will check in with the rest of the team from time to time and help out any team members as is warranted. This leader will also contribute to the actual work of the project, attempting to create an equal disbursement of duties among all the team members.

Need for Achievement: an individual's need, desire, preference for accomplishing goals. An individual with a high need for achievement is driven toward success, either large or small, but preferably meaningful. High achievers take calculated risks. Tasks that are too easily accomplished give very little satisfaction, while tasks with improbable odds may present too great a risk of failure. Moderately risky tasks present enough of a challenge to be worth the effort, and enough of a sense of accomplishment to warrant the energy spent in its pursuit. High achievers do not always need recognition for their efforts; the accomplishment of the task is often reward enough. In a team setting, it will be the high achiever who pushes the team forward from the background to ensure the success of the project. They may step forward to take on additional responsibilities, or even the leadership role, if they feel it is necessary to keep the project moving forward. The downside is that occasionally the high achiever may bear the majority of the project weight upon their shoulders because they are so concerned with seeing it completed successfully, so they may suffer burnout more often than someone with a high need for affiliation or a high need for power.

Of course, McClelland and his colleagues recognized that it was possible for an individual to have score high on more than one of these needs areas, or to even score low on all three. This theory begins to cross over from motivation into personality as it acknowledges that each person is unique in their level of needs in these three areas. Not everyone who is a leader is driven by the same need; not everyone who is accomplished is driven by a need to achieve. Personality is comprised of the unique qualities and characteristics that make you YOU. In McClelland's theory we begin to see that motivation may be tied to some core personal characteristic that drives someone toward certain behaviors or preferences.