McClelland Model – Power, Affiliation and Achievement


The McClelland Model of  motivation theory is based on the assumption that through life experiences, people develop various needs.

The three needs are:

  • The need for achievement the desire to do something better than it has been done before.
  • The need for power the desire to control, influence, or be responsible for other people.
  • The need for affiliation the desire to maintain close and friendly personal relationships.

People have all of these needs to some extent.  The relative strength of the needs influences what will motivate a person.

In business you can assess leadership qualities by understanding the relative strength of the needs

In respect of power needs: 

Power stories reflect influencing others, defeating an opponent or competitor, winning and argument, or attaining a position of greater authority. Persons with low need for power may lack the assertiveness and self confidence necessary to organize and direct group activities effectively.

A high need for power may be expressed as “personalized power” or “socialized power.” People with high personalized power may have little inhibition or self control, and they exercise power impulsively. Correlated with this are tendencies to be rude, excessive use of alcohol, sexual harassment, and collecting symbols of power (e.g., big offices, desks, fancy cars, etc.). When they give advice or support, it is with strategic intent to further bolster their own status. They demand loyalty to their leadership rather than to the organization. When the leader leaves the organization there is likely disorder and breakdown of team morale and direction.

Socialized power need is most often associated with effective leadership. These leaders direct their power in socially positive ways that benefit others and the organization rather than only contributing to the leader’s status and gain. They seek power because it is through power that tasks are accomplished. They are more hesitant to use power in a manipulative manner, are less narcissistic and defensive, accumulate fewer material possessions or symbols of power or status, have a longer range perspective, and are more willing to receive consultation and advice. They realize that power must be distributed and shared, and that everyone must have a sense of influence over their own jobs. Effective leaders empower others who use that power to enact and further the leader’s vision for the organization. For technical managers, need for achievement was predictive of advancement through lower levels of management, but power was predictive of higher levels of attainment.


In respect of Achievement needs:

Achievement is reflected in stories about attaining challenging goals, setting new records, successful completion of difficult tasks, and doing something not done before.

High need achievers prefer a job in which success depends on effort and ability rather than on chance and factors beyond their control (locus of control). They prefer tasks that enable them to exercise their skills and initiation in problem solving. They want frequent and specific feedback about performance so they can enjoy the experience of making progress toward objectives. People scoring high are often found in jobs such as sales representative, estate agent, producer of entertainment events, and owner-manager of small business. For managers in large organisations, moderate to high achievement is secondary to higher power needs. If achievement is dominant, the manager may try to achieve objectives alone rather than through team development.


In respect of Affiliation Needs (Naff):

Affiliation themes are revealed in stories about establishing or restoring close and friendly relationships, joining groups, participating in pleasant social activities, and enjoying shared activities with family or friends. It reflects behaviours toward others that are cooperative, supportive, and friendly and which value belonging and conformity to the group. They obtain great satisfaction from being liked and accepted by others, and prefer to work with others who prefer group harmony and cohesion (e.g.., relationship-centered, Jungian Type F’s).

A person low in affiliation tends to be a loner who is uncomfortable socialising with others except for a few close friends or family (introversion?). They may lack motivation or energy to maintain high social contacts in networking, group presentations, public relations, and building close personal relations with peers and subordinates so necessary for most managers.

Those with strong Naff are reluctant to let work interfere with harmonious relationships. Moderate Naff is related to effective management, since strong needs often lead to avoidance of unpopular decisions, permitting exceptions to rules, and showing favoritism to friends. This often leads to subordinates feeling confused about rules, playing to the manager’s likes, and becoming anxious about what might happen next (inequity).


This knowledge is useful for understanding the Values section of our NLP Master Practitioner Training Course that we run and for devising training material to make sure that it “hits the spot”.  Certify as a Master Practitioner on NLP with Excellence Assured.  NLP training online.