Understanding Leadership Behavior: 4 Basic Drives

Core-BehaviorsHow well do you understand how and why people do what they do at work? Understanding leadership behavior, as well as co-worker and employee behavior, is key to working well. Do you know what drives your boss?

There are many ways of understanding your boss, none more seductive than being able to group him/her into a category and putting a label onto their defining motivation.

  • He’s a “High D” – always driven to win, wants to dominate and control.
  • She’s an extreme extravert, knows and connects with everyone, drives teamwork.
  • He’s an analytic decision-maker, wants a lot of data before anything else.

You may be more familiar with Myers-Briggs or Disc or some other assessment system, but how you categorize yourself and your boss must take into account underlying human motivations we all share in common. What are those basic human drives?

Four drive theory is based on evolutionary psychology. It proposes all humans have four basic drives in common.

These four drives have been present in humans since the beginnings of our species and have helped in our survival. These four basic drives are embedded in our genetic DNA and remain very much active in us today, especially at work.

The four basic drives are:

  1. The drive to acquire
  2. The drive to bond
  3. The drive to comprehend
  4. The drive to defend

Which, coincidentally, makes it easy to remember: A, B, C, and D!

In Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (Jossey Bass, 2001), authors Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria explain this new theory on basic drives in humans.

These two Harvard Business School professors (Nohria is currently dean of the Harvard Business School) draw evidence for their four-drive theory from evolution and Darwin as well as from social sciences and organizational life.

Human beings are driven to seek ways to fulfill all four drives because these drives are the product of the species’ common evolutionary heritage: they increase the ability of our genes to survive.

This also explains why so many people working in organizations are driven to become better at what they do and hire coaches to improve their success.

  1. The drive to acquire objects and experiences that improve our status relative to others: This is defined as a drive to seek, take, control and retain objects and personal experiences. In the course of evolution humans have been selected naturally for this drive by survival pressures, based on the basic needs for food, fluid, shelter, and sexual fulfillment.People are driven to acquire both material and positional goods. Both goods and social status are important here. The drive to acquire is rarely satisfied; you can always want more and always seek ever greater status.
  1. The drive to bond with others in long-term relationships of mutual care and commitment: Humans have an innate drive to form social relationships and develop commitments with others that is fulfilled only when the attachment is mutual. Groups of individuals who were bonded to one another had a better chance of surviving environmental threats than groups that were not. This drive draws humans into cooperation with others.

I’ll share more with you in my next post, stay tuned. In the mean time, start paying attention to the things you do, and become aware of what drives you. In what ways do you recognize your drives? I’d love to hear from you.

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