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The Many Faces of a Motive - The Motive Center
October 11th, 2004
12:06 am

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The Many Faces of a Motive
The good thing about motives is that there's only three really important ones. The bad thing about motives is that there's only three important ones. That makes it hard to get any precision when you're talking about specific people.

These motives are very deep indeed, associated with brain structure and neurochemistry (ask me for more info), which makes them hard to separate from what people do. This post is about how motives "hide" under behaviors, and how to smoke 'em out, with examples.



Quick Quiz! What motive drives the following behavior?

1. A salesperson carefully works out a plan to win over a specific customer
2. A manager goes down to the pub "with the guys"
3. A leader emphasizes the importance of doing something no one else has done

Any guesses? Did you guess Influence/Power, Affiliation, Achievement? That's what it looks like, but actually we don't know enough. Let's expand on it a bit...

1. A salesperson carefully works out a plan to win over a specific customer...because she found it was the most efficient way to make the sale and quota
2. A manager goes down to the pub "with the guys"...in order to win over their loyalty and commitment to him as a manager
3. A leader emphasizes the importance of doing something no one else has done...to get people excited about a challenging goal

Now, try again. The behavior looks like Power, Affiliation, Achievement, but actually the motives here are Achievement, Power, and Power. As I've noted already, motives are not identical to behavior! Motives lead to behavior, not vice versa, but even then there can be layers between the two, organized by thinking.

This is especially true with the Power/Influence motive, where someone may "tune in" to what the other person's motives are and play to that. What people often read into behavior is based more on their impression than the actual intent.

I often hear a bad manager described as "power-mad--a control freak. Must be power motivated." I ask why, and they say "oh, everything has to be done his way, and if you don't, he assumes you're doing it wrong and takes it away or tells you exactly what to do. Well, why is that manager doing that? Note the "doing it wrong." This is actually Achievement motive more often than not. The drive to make things better or do things best sometimes emerges as "I know the best way, so anything different is wrong!" The Affiliative or Influence-motivated person might be more alert to how the person feels who gets it taken away, but the Achievement-motivated person isn't thinking about the other person--that person is thinking about getting to the goal.

People are complicated! Next...we'll go a bit deeper...

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