Motivation – it’s whatever turns you on

As a business owner are you driven by achievement, the lust for power and authority or the need to have good relationships? According to David McClelland* these are the 3 main drives and we each possess a combination of them all. A predominance of one of the characteristics over the others determines how we behave at work. Can you recognise yourself in any of these?

1. The need for achievement (n-ach) – these people make good leaders and are motivated by the work itself rather than the financial rewards.

2. The need for power (n-pow) – the seekers of authority and status. Although these people are strongly attracted to leadership, they may lack the empathy and people skills needed to influence others.

3. The need for affiliation (n-affil) or friendly relationships – the team players with a need to be liked. These people are unlikely to be strong leaders because they are swayed too much by popular opinion.

I’ve had the privilege over the past 18 months to work with business owners in a closer capacity than I have in the past. As a coach and trainer for Growth Accelerator I work with business owners to help them plan their course and take the steps needed to reach their objectives. This process has revealed to me the diversity that exists – select half a dozen MDs and you could find they seem to have little in common. Only highly motivated people would choose to run a business, one might assume, and yet the drives within people can be very different. In addition to McClelland’s 3 kinds of motivation, some people are more motivated by external factors and others by internal ones. Some are positively driven towards success, others negatively driven away from failure. If a business idea does not tap into, and serve, the motivations of its owner it will almost certainly fail. It is said, by the way, that the longer people survive in business, the less important their skills and intelligence become. Their sheer persistence is the greatest factor in their continued survival.

Even the most successful and highly motivated business owners suffer from fatigue at times – it is defined as the “grind” – a period during which one is worn down by repeating the tasks that made for success. At times like these, it helps to think of a sailing analogy. When sailing a ship, you have a course to follow and, as a seasoned sailor, you understand that you are at the mercy of external factors such as the weather and tides. Remember that your intuition, combined with a map to follow, has served you well in the past and will do so again, even when the winds are against you.

My personal view on the factors that motivate people is that we can fake n-pow characteristics in order to gain office and authority, even if our natural leanings are towards n-affil. I’ve told the story many times of how I was swatted away by a business owner in my first year in business when asking him to pay his bill. “I will pay you when I am ready”, he said loftily. I walked away feeling despondent, got into my car and started for home. Then, at the first opportunity I turned around, returned to his office and said respectfully but firmly, “If you want us to work for you, I must ask that you respect our terms.” In shock, he wrote me a cheque 🙂 If we play the n-pow role for long enough it becomes intrinsic. We can satisfy our n-affil needs outside work. I have no desire to run the charity I take part in, for example – I’m happy to be part of the team and follow instructions. There are enough strategic decisions to be made in my day job!

Without a healthy and genuine dose of n-ach however, we will not survive for long. We will certainly not weather the times when the seas are stormy and there’s no food in the galley. Pride in achievement shines out from all the successful business owners I have met. It keeps their staff on side and attracts clients to them.

If you would like to know more about subsidised support to develop your business give me a call on 01743 239283 or email

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