McClelland Follow Up

Well I finished reading the HBR OnPoint collection on Power: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The first article was written by David McClelland and David Burnham called Power Is the Great Motivator. I skipped the second article as it didn’t apply to my situation ( now or in the next 2-3 years). Skimmed the 3rd article, but really wanted to focus on the McClelland & Burnham article.


Its based on their research and uses McClelland’s assertion that people are motivated in three ways (as discussed on my last post) 1)Power, 2)Affiliation and 3)Achievement. Using these three archetypes as a basis, McClelland and Burnham breakdown managers into one of three categories 1)Affiliative Managers, 2) Personal Power Managers and 3) Institutional Managers. The two Davids utilized a workshop format using interviews, stories and questionnaires, compared the participants to national norms, interviewed the managers subordinates. The subordinates were asked to rank their managers on 6 areas:

  1. Amount of conformity to the rules their supervisor requires
  2. Amount of responsibility they feel they are given
  3. Emphasis department places on standards of performance
  4. Degree of rewards for good work vs punishment for bad work
  5. Organizational clarity in the office
  6. Team spirit

The Davids were looking for managers that scored highest morale scores based on (5&6). They also point out the stages a manager moves through as he/she matures from 1)Dependant on others, 2) Interested in autonomy, 3) Interested in manipulating others and finally 4) serve others selflessly. The pool was 500 managers from 25 US corporations.

The classification of a manager into one of the three archetypes closely followed McClelland’s work on motivation. The Affiliative manager was deemed the worst type of manager as they would work to have everyone like them at the expense of the corporation and team members. The Personal Power manager, was given higher marks for personal accomplishment and ability to be productive, but did little to inspire those around them and build a team. Lastly the Institutional Managers were those that sought power not just for the sake of imposing their will on others, but to further the corporation’s goals. They also acted in a democratic way when possible and attempted to help those around them first but not at the expense of the corporation’s goals. The Davids also believed that it was possible for a manager to change if they put in the time and effort and tracked their efforts along the way.

My Analysis

So what does this all mean to you an me? I think there are some basic elements you must possess in order to begin to be a good manager.

  1. Want to improve and seek out ways to improve yourself
  2. Want to help others achieve their own goals
  3. Derive gratification from doing good
  4. Willing to listen to others
  5. Understand that it will take time (perhaps on the order of 10 years)

With these elements as a foundation I believe one can then start to apply and incorporate some of the traits and methods that the Davids point out in the Institutional Manager archetype. Specifically:

  • You must seek power, but use it in a non-dictatorial fashion for the purposes of helping those around you achieve their goals and achieve the corporations goals.
  • You must be willing to inhibit your own desires and put others and the corporate goals ahead of your own.
  • Be democratic and try to coach their subordinates to achieve individually and as a team.

So while I have never sought higher management, I think that in order to become a proficient KM practitioner, one must be able to help others achieve their own goals, find out what motivates others and build the environment to respond to these motives. To be successful at KM, it would appear that the same characteristics of an Institutional Manager would apply equally. That means I have a long road ahead of me.


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