McClelland Theory of Motivation

It can be tempting to brag about your team's accomplishments to the rest of the company. Not everyone enjoys being "paraded around," however. It is always complex to lead a team where everyone has their distinct character. Nevertheless, if you oversee a group of people, you need to have a firm grasp of what drives them, how they react to praise and criticism, and what roles best suit them. The theory of human motivation developed by David McClelland can help you figure out what makes people tick. This will help you motivate your employees by giving them the right tasks, constructive feedback, and praise.

What does McClelland's Theory of Motivation Define?

David McClelland, an American psychologist, researched how people can fulfill their desires. What motivates people, and can these habits be taught? According to David McClelland, people of all ages, genders, cultures, and skin tones are motivated by their wants. David McClelland identifies four primary forms of intrinsic motivation in his theory of motivation.

  • Must be successful

  • Power is crucial to our survival.

  • Needing to feel like you belong somewhere.

  • Avoidance is necessary

Need for Achievement

Everybody has an innate drive to succeed at something in life. For some, this means starting a big family, while for others, it means getting a high-paying job and climbing the corporate ladder. David McClelland investigated the factors that inspire people to succeed. How can we best tap into their talents, and what drives them to succeed? After analyzing the data, he identified four traits that align with the drive for success: aiming for tasks of moderate difficulty, taking charge of one's performance, seeking and acting on feedback, and employing innovation and creativity.

Need for Power

Those with an egocentric desire for control place a premium on social standing, public acclaim, and peer approval. They must feel important, and they have to be the ones who make decisions and exert power over others. David McClelland claims that people with this personality type enjoy competing and succeeding. When their desire is strong, they close themselves off to criticism. This requirement could involve both individual and organizational authority. Those preoccupied with their strength often harbor a need for dominance over those around them. People who value institutional authority like to organize the work of more people to reach the company's goals.

Need for Affiliation

Humans are naturally social creatures who desire to feel accepted by their peers. When people have a strong urge to belong to a group, they act in ways that please those in it. Consequently, they will choose cooperation over rivalry. So, the need for influence and the need for belonging is incompatible.

Need for Avoidance

David McClelland subsequently inserted a requirements subcategory for this purpose. This desire appears when people have little interest in being in the spotlight and would rather avoid conflict. Some people are as afraid of achievement as failure or rejection, and people feel they have found a secure resolution by avoiding potential anxiety-inducing scenarios.

The Iceberg Model

David McClelland's "Iceberg" model analyses a person's overt demeanor, overt knowledge, and overt abilities, as well as their latent, unspoken, and undiscovered depths. A person's intelligence, abilities, and character traits are all found in the part of the iceberg that is above the surface. What they do is the most important part. Underneath the surface, the concepts of think and want are concerned with more nebulous ideas like norms, values, beliefs, pride, personality traits, and goals. These four hidden levels could work together as driving forces. On the other hand, they might obscure the target's outward behavior,

Above the Waterline

Anything above the surface is strong and real, with the emphasis being on how rather than what. An organization's vision and strategy can be translated into its content, structure, finances, and, most importantly, its output, which includes procedures for getting things done, staffing levels, and the receipt and distribution of constructive criticism. This will serve as a standard for workers.

Below the Waterline

Things become considerably more ethereal and undercurrent-fed beneath the surface. What this song is about is that intangible, pervasive sense. Below the surface is where people's interactions, emotions, ways of expressing themselves, and goals in life may be found. Submerged, an organization's culture is also developed. What happens underneath the surface impacts and what happens on the surface? Therefore, changes to procedures need to consider both levels.

Using the Theory

Those extremely motivated by power can be either individually or collectively oriented. People with a greater need for personal power tend to try to dominate those around them. In contrast, those with a greater need for institutional power would rather work to coordinate the activities of others to achieve organizational goals. Not surprisingly, team members with a thirst for managerial power are highly sought after. McClelland's theory helps you determine the primary drivers of motivation for those who are a part of your team. This information can then be used to influence how you create goals, how you provide feedback, and how you motivate and reward team members. You may also use these drivers to create or design the job around the members of your team, which will result in a better match for everyone involved


According to McClelland's Human Motivation Theory, everyone is primarily driven by three needs: success, affiliation, or desire for power. These drives are learned through exposure to society and personal experience. Those who are high achievers enjoy taking on challenges and succeeding at them. People who have a great urge to belong to groups are risk-averse and want to play it safe, placing a premium on the closeness of their relationships. Those who are highly motivated by power enjoy exerting authority over others. In addition to better organizing your team's responsibilities, you can use this data to lead, praise, and motivate your employees.

Updated on: 06-Jan-2023

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