There are over 7.4 billion people on Earth, each of them unique in their own way; possessing diverse mindsets, capabilities, skills and ambitions. Due to these individual differences, it’s safe to say that us humans are different even when it comes to our motivational drives. To solve the issue of recognizing exactly what is the most dominant motivational drive of a person, David McClelland, an American Psychologist, presented his Theory of Needs. 

This theory proved to be a successful contribution in the growing topic of Motivation in Psychology. Basically, in the Theory of Needs, McClelland categorized humans into three generalized personalities, equipped with their most dominant need and respective motivational drive. The three types of needs are: Need for Power, Need for Affiliation and Need for Achievement.

Categorization Over Stages:

Unlike, Abraham Maslow, McClelland chose categorization of needs, rather than stages of needs. In McClelland’s theory there are three types of generalized personalities, in which all humans fit.

Personality Types in McClelland’s Theory:

As mentioned above, the three types of need personalities are:

  1. Need for Power.
  2. Need for Affiliation.
  3. Need for Achievement.

   1) Need for Power:

Those with a dominant need and motivation for power constantly work towards it. This type of people are split into two further sub-categories: Personal and Institutional need for power. Those with a personal need for power aim to aim to establish their control over other, while people with an institutional need for power, aim to lead a group or team to the top.

  • Personality traits of those in need for power:

This type of people aim to establish control over others; aim to influence or lead; Commonly like to win arguments; enjoy competitions, winning, status and recognition; are demanding and outspoken; present their views, etc.

The people with a dominant need for power are constantly and mostly motivated to keep climbing up the ladder to acquire power, and since power is endless, they constantly keep climbing up higher and higher.

A person with this type of personality would shape all their goals and ambitions around their most demanding need (Need for Power in this case) and so, in any situation if anyone would like them to deliver their best and maximum results, they should try methods which would encourage a person thirsting for power and recognition.

   2) Need for Affiliation:

The second type of people, with a need for affiliation, basically have a need to establish bonds with others in a positive regard. This type of people’s most dominating motivational drive results from their need for being liked and to “belong”.

  • Personality traits for those in need for affiliation:

This type of people in essence aim to be liked by others. Their most common characteristics include: want to belong to a group; want to be liked; often found going with the flow of the group; unlike the people in need for power, this type prefers collaboration over competitions; favors low-risk.

The people with a dominant need for affiliation are constantly motivated to be liked by their fellow peers, or others in general. A person with this type of a personality will shape all their ultimate goals and ambitions around this dominant need, and thus, if anyone wishes to motivate them to deliver their absolute best and their maximum, they should try working with their motivational drive through their most dominant need i.e. Need for Affiliation, in this case.

   3) Need for Achievement:

This last category of people, are strongly motivated to work towards and achieve their goals and tasks through their very dominant need for achievement. This type of people are generally very ambitious and receive their maximum pleasure from achievement.

  • Personality traits for those in need for achievement:

This type of people, aim to achieve in their tasks and goals; they prefer challenging but not impossible tasks; they are accustomed to taking calculated and minimum risks; they prefer proper and regular feedbacks concerning their progress and achievements; they often like to work alone as they feel that others won’t give the tasks their maximum; on performing a task they deliver their 100%.

The people with a dominant need for achievement are constantly motivated to keep on achieving and to keep on progressing. Their thirst for achievement is so great and immense that it is their strongest and most dominating motivational drive, and thus, if anyone wishes to motivate this type of people, they must try methods which go along with their need for achievement.

Application of McClelland’s Theory of Needs to Real Life:

If you are an employee looking for motivational methods to apply to your employees, or even if you are here looking for motivation for your own-self, then follow the few simple steps listed below:

Step 1: Recognition of Dominant Need:

As McClelland’s theory suggests, every person can be generalized into three basic categories of personality type and characteristics, thus, the first step to finding where one’s strongest motivational drives lies, they must try to recognize which category of personality type from McClelland’s theory they belong to.

The easiest way includes:

  • try jotting down all your priority ambitions along with their reasons.
  • with a clear mind, try accessing your demand of life.
  • recognize your traits.

Try matching the results with the characteristics of McClellands personalities, and the personality which your answer matches the most with is your type.

Step 2: Channeling The Motivational Drive:

Once you are aware of the group of personality you belong to, you know your most dominant motivational drive. But the question remains, how to channel this drive into achieving all tasks? The answer: Try relating the task at hand to your most dominant need (power, affiliation or achievement) and keep on reinforcing the idea that achieving the task at hand will in one way or another, lead to the satisfaction of the need.

*Usage of the Theory on others:

For maximum results, let the people with a Need for Achievement work alone as they prefer. Similarly, allow the people with Need for Power to lead on the task and lastly, let the people with a Need for Affiliation work in groups.


19 year old undergraduate Psychology student, with an immense love for food, journals and cool socks.

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