David McClelland's Theory of Motivation: Overview

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

In this lesson, you'll learn about David McClelland and his acquired needs theory of motivation. You will have an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz after the lesson.

Who Was David McClelland?

David Clarence McClelland (1917-1998) was an American social psychologist best known for his work in motivation theory. He co-founded the consulting firm of McBer Consulting Company, which helped companies with employee assessment and management training. Some of his publications include The Achievement Motive (1953), The Achieving Society (1961), Toward A Theory Of Motivation Acquisition (1965), Managing Motivation to Expand Human Freedom (1978) and Human Motivation (1987).

Theory of Motivation

Acquired needs theory is a theory of motivation developed by social psychologist David McClelland. It proposes that people are motivated to fulfill three types of needs: the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power.

McClelland called theses needs acquired needs because he believed that the needs are acquired during your life. The need to achieve is a drive to compete, meet high standards of excellence and succeed. The need for affiliation is a desire to create close personal relationships with others and avoid conflict. The need for power is the drive to control, be responsible and have authority over others, and to influence others.

Acquired needs theory suggests that your early development will determine if you have these needs. For example, if you developed a warm and loving relationship with your parents, you may develop the need for affiliation. If you were encouraged to act independently and were rewarded for success as a kid, you may have acquired the need to achieve. Likewise, if you enjoyed bossing and controlling other kids as a child, you may have developed a need for power.

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