McClelland’s Motivational Needs Theory

David McClelland was an American professor at Wesleyan University and Harvard in the United States before he died in 1998. While at Harvard, he spent more than 20 years studying the way people are motivated and how they address their achievements and needs.

After years of research he published a book called The Achieving Society in which he discussed the three types of motivational need he discovered: affiliation motivation, authority or power motivation, and achievement motivation. He found that everyone, regardless of their level in the workplace, experiences all three of these needs on some level – whether they need to motivate others or be motivated themselves.

The need for affiliation covers the idea that everyone needs to have positive relationships and, as a result, everyone is motivated towards developing some sort of interaction with others. Those who fall into this category, also labeled n-affil, want to be liked and work well in teams.

A person with a need for authority and power, also referred to as an n-pow person, wants to make a huge impact on the world. They want their ideas to be heard and also focus on making sure others see them as prestigious or with high status.

Those who feel a need to achieve, or the n-ach people, are highly motivated. They set a lot of challenging goals but remain realistic at the same time. Those who need to feel as though they’ve achieved their goals constantly seek to hear feedback from others.

Most people possess all three of these characteristics but spend most of the time leaning more towards one than the others. The one a person leans towards most will determine what type of worker or manager he will become – objective, determined, flexible, etc. Achievement motivated individuals, however, always seem to get the best results in the end!

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

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