Is it possible that some people are naturally more motivated or have “more fire in the belly” than others? Do some people automatically put forth a higher level of effort toward group goals simply because they are hardwired this way? Unlike Maslow’s theory, which claims all people share some fundamental needs, this approach to motivation is simple. To improve group performance, leaders should select only followers who both possess the right skills and have a higher level of a personality trait called achievement orientation.
Atkinson has proposed that an individual’s tendency to exert effort toward task accomplishment depends partly on the strength of his or her motivation to achieve success, or as Atkinson called it, achievement orientation . McClelland further developed Atkinson’s ideas and said that individuals with a strong achievement orientation (or in McClelland’s terms, a strong need for achievement ) strive to accomplish socially acceptable endeavors and activities. These individuals also prefer tasks that provide immediate and ample feedback and are moderately difficult (that is, tasks that require a considerable amount of effort but are accomplishable). Additionally, individuals with a strong need to achieve feel satisfied when they successfully solve work problems or accomplish job tasks. Individuals with a relatively low need to achieve generally prefer easier tasks and do not feel satisfied by solving problems or accomplishing assigned tasks. McClelland maintained that differences in achievement orientation are a primary reason why people differ in the levels of effort they exert to accomplish assignments, objectives, or goals. Thus achievement orientation is a bit like “fire in the belly”; people with more achievement orientation are likely to set higher personal and work goals and are more likely to expend the effort needed to accomplish them. People with low levels of achievement motivation tend to set lower personal and work goals and are less likely to accomplish them.
Achievement orientation is also a component of the five factor model or OCEAN Model of Personality dimension of conscientiousness. Conscientiousness has been found to be positively related to performance across virtually all jobs as well as predict success in school, in the military, in blue-collar and retail workers, and in management positions. All things being equal, people with higher levels of achievement orientation are likely to do better in school, pursue postgraduate degrees, get promoted more quickly, and get paid higher salaries and bonuses than their lower-scoring counterparts.
Given that individuals with higher achievement orientation scores set high personal goals and put in the time and effort necessary to achieve them, it is hardly surprising that achievement orientation is often a key success factor for people who advance to the highest levels of the organization.For example, achievement orientation appears to be a common success factor underlying the careers of Michelle Bachelet, Mark Roellig, Wu Yi, and Richard Branson (Profiles in Leadership 9.1–9.4). Although achievement orientation is often associated with higher performance, high achievers can get demoralized when facing unclear or impossible tasks. Working with elite Army Ranger units, Britt found that these units almost always performed at high levels and were often successful. But when given unclear missions with few resources and impossible timelines, these same units could self-destruct quickly. In these situations the units felt they were being set up to fail, and fail they did. This phenomenon is clearly depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, where Army Ranger units were sent to Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture a Somalian warlord. The important lesson here is that leaders need to give high achievers clear goals and the resources they need to succeed.
How could a leader apply this knowledge of achievement orientation to improve the performance of Julie, Ling Ling, and the flight attendants? Perhaps the first step would be to ensure that the hiring process selected individuals with higher levels of achievement orientation. Assuming they had higher scores, we would expect Ling Ling to work with her boss to set aggressive goals for renting apartments and then work as many nights and weekends as were needed to achieve them. We might also expect Ling Ling to obtain her MBA from Hong Kong University over the next few years. Julie could also be expected to set high personal and work goals, but she may find that her job limits her ability to pursue these goals. Unlike Ling Ling, who can control the number of nights and weekends she works, Julie has no control over the number of people who ride on her lift. The job itself may limit Julie’s ability to fulfill her high level of achievement orientation. As a result, she may pursue other activities, such as becoming an expert skier, joining the ski patrol, doing ski racing, looking for additional responsibilities or opportunities for advancement, or finding another job where she has the opportunity to achieve and get rewarded for her efforts. Because Julie would set and work toward high personal goals, a good boss would work closely with Julie to find work-related ways to capitalize on her achievement orientation. Thus achievement orientation may be a dual-edged sword. Leadership practitioners may be able to hire a group of highly motivated followers, but they also need to set clear expectations, provide opportunities for followers to set and achieve work-related goals, and provide feedback on progress toward goals. Otherwise followers may find different ways to fulfill their high levels of achievement orientation.
Applying the achievement orientation approach to the flight attendant situation or to U.S. workers from 2002 to 2009 leads to some interesting thoughts. Perhaps the airline did not screen for conscientiousness when hiring flight attendants and does not have enough people with high scores to deliver good customer service. Or the company could have hired only people with high conscientiousness scores but not set any measurable goals, repeatedly ignored requests for better equipment, failed to back up staff when they were challenged by “bad” travelers, or not given any recognition for jobs well done. In this case the flight attendants could feel that they have been set up for failure. With respect to people working in the United States from 2002 to 2009, those with the highest levels of achievement orientation were most likely to get promoted during the economic boom and stay with their companies during the recession. However, because many companies went under or eliminated entire work units or functions, some achievementoriented types found themselves out of jobs. Because work is so important to people with high levels of achievement orientation, some of these individuals probably found work elsewhere. Others may be devastated by their job loss and are bitter about being set up for failure.
PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP 9.1
Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated as president of Chile in March 2006 and is ranked by Forbes as the 17th most powerful female in the world. Bachelet is a surgeon, pediatrician, and epidemiologist with a master’s degree in military studies from the Chilean Army War Academy and previous experience as the country’s Health and Defense Minister. A moderate socialist who believes in free markets, Bachelet and her government have negotiated a number of bilateral trade agreements with other countries. Her government has also worked to reduce corruption, improve public transportation, resolve border disputes with Peru and Argentina, manage the aftermath of an 8.8 magnitude earthquake, and reduce the gap between rich and poor (Chile has one of the largest wealth gaps in the world).
Bachelet’s father was a Chilean Air Force Brigadier General, and she moved a lot while growing up. While she was in high school her father got a two-year assignment to the Chilean embassy in Washington, D.C. Her family then moved back to Chile, where she graduated near the top of her high school class and applied to medical school. She had one of the highest scores ever recorded on the medical school entrance examination, but while she was in medical school Augusto Pinochet came to power and began to purge anyone associated with the previous administration. During this time Bachelet’s father was working for the Salvadore Allende government as the head of the Food Distribution Office. He was arrested by Pinochet’s forces and interrogated and tortured. He had a heart attack and died while in prison. Shortly thereafter Michelle Bachelet and her mother were also arrested, interrogated, and tortured, but due to family connections they were granted exile in Australia. Bachelet then moved to East Germany to continue her medical studies. She remained in East Germany for three years before she was allowed to move back to Chile. Upon her return the country’s medical establishment refused to honor the coursework and medical training Bachelet received in East Germany, so she had to repeat many of the courses she had taken earlier. She graduated near the top of her medical school class and then worked as a doctor helping the children of parents who were tortured or missing during the Pinochet administration’s reign.
A fluent speaker of five languages, Bachelet is the first woman to be democratically elected as a head of state in Latin America who was not married to a previous head of state. Because the Chilean constitution prohibited her from running for two consecutive terms, Bachelet resigned from the presidency in March 2010. Had these constitutional prohibitions not been in place, it was likely that she would have been reelected because she had an 80 percent approval rating when she resigned. What do you think motivates Bachelet? How would you measure her performance and effectiveness?
PROFILES IN LEADERSHIP 9.4
Richard Branson is the chairman of Virgin Industries, which owns such companies as Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Fuels, Virgin Media, Virgin Comics, and Virgin Health Care. An entrepreneur since the age of 16, Branson had his first business success publishing Student magazine in 1966. From there he started Virgin Records, which at the time was an audio record mail order business. In 1972 he owned a chain of record stores, Virgin Records, and installed a recording studio. At the time the studio was used by a number of top bands, including Mike Oldfield, the Sex Pistols, and Culture Club.
In the 1980s Branson ventured into the airline industry with the launch of Virgin Atlantic Airways. He expanded his airline holdings to include Virgin Express, a low-cost European carrier, and Virgin Blue, an Asia-Pacific carrier. In 2004 he partnered with Paul Allen and Burt Rutan to launch Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company. His Virgin Fuels business was launched to find more environmentally friendly fuels for automobiles and airplanes.
Having a long history of creating successful companies, selling them, and then using the proceeds to fund other business ventures, Branson sold Virgin Records to EMI for approximately $750,000,000 and sold Virgin Mobile for $1,500,000,000. Virgin Industries currently employs 50,000 people in 30 countries and generates $23,000,000,000 in annual revenues. With a personal net worth of over $4,000,000,000, Branson has turned his attention to more humanitarian causes. Working with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and Desmond Tutu, Branson is looking to develop peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts. He is an active promoter of using entrepreneurship to solve environmental problems. What motivational approach would best describe Richard Branson?