Colin Powell: Leader

19 May, 2015

By many measures, General Colin Powell is one of the most accomplished military leaders of the twentieth century, holding a slew of ‘first’s and ‘youngest’s. What makes him interesting to the Management Pocketblog is the depth and breadth of his ideas on leadership, that have been widely publicised, most notably by the late Oren Harari, who was a business professor at the University of San Francisco. His credibility as a ‘leadership guru’ is immense, and much of his philosophy of leadership applies well to managers who lead within civilian organisations.

General Colin Powell


Short Biography

Colin Powell was born in 1937 to Jamaican immigrant parents, and grew up in the Bronx in New York. He attended the City College of New York, earning a BS in geology in 1958. But during his time there, he made his most important choice of all. As an averagely academic student at the time, he found his greatest fulfilment attending the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was good at it too, so on graduation, he joined the US Army, attended basic training, and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant.

Powell’s early military career was dominated by distinguished tours of duty in Vietnam, rising to Lieutenant Colonel in 1970. He was wounded, and also decorated for bravery. He returned the US and to a series of political roles with the Nixon and Reagan administrations, rising up through the ranks of general staff, until President George HW Bush appointed him the youngest (and first African American) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989.

He served in that role until 1993, and then retired from the military. He was courted by both Republican and Democratic parties as a potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate and, after declaring himself a Republican, declined to stand, saying he did not have the fire in the belly he would need for such a role. However, in the 2000 Presidential election, Republican Party candidate George W Bush declared that, if he won, he would appoint Powell as Secretary of State – which he did.

Powell was a good Secretary of State – widely liked and respected by staff and international politicians. He served during the 11 September attacks and presented the US case for invasion of Iraq to the UN, putting forward evidence of weapons of mass destruction. When he later learned that the evidence he had been given by the CIA was bogus, he apologised and it is likely that this, along with long-running disagreements with Vice President Dick Cheney caused him to resign and not serve in Bush’s second term.

However, he continued (and continues) to serve the US in a range of voluntary roles, most notable of which is the America’s Promise Alliance, which he founded with his wife Alma, and which she continues to chair. It sets out to help create the conditions for success for young people, especially those it identifies as being disadvantaged by lack of resources and opportunities.

In 2013, Powell’s Alma Mater, The City College of New York, transformed its Division of Social Science into the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. It incorporates the Colin Powell Center, which Powell founded in Harlem (where he was born) to build a culture of service and to inspire young people with a sense of public purpose and responsibility.

Colin Powell on Leadership

Powell’s leadership philosophy started to become well-known when Oren Harari wrote an article in the American Management Association’s monthly magazine, Management Review, called Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer (1996). This was such a successful article (Powell himself praised it) that Harari followed it up with a book: ‘The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell‘.

Since then, Powell has himself articulated his 13 Rules of Leadership, in his own book, ‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership‘.

  • Rule 1: It Ain’t as Bad as You Think!  It Will Look Better in the Morning!
  • Rule 2: Get Mad Then Get Over It!
  • Rule 3: Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!
  • Rule 4: It Can be Done!
  • Rule 5: Be Careful What You Choose! You May Get It!
  • Rule 6: Don’t Let Adverse Facts Stand in the Way of a Good Decision.
  • Rule 7: You Can’t Make Someone Else’s Decisions!  You Shouldn’t Let Someone Else Make Yours!
  • Rule 8: Check Small Things!
  • Rule 9: Share Credit!
  • Rule 10: Remain calm!  Be kind!
  • Rule 11: Have a Vision! Be Demanding!
  • Rule 12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers!
  • Rule 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier!

Three of the Best for Managers

Combining Powell’s own 13 rules, with the 18 lessons that Harari drew from quotations by Powell in his 1996 article, I would like to extract three that I find most relevant and resonant for business managers.

Powell’s Rule 3:
Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!

I like this a lot, because it is about resilience and also about recognising that you can be wrong, you will be wrong and, indeed, this is sometimes part of your job description. Being wrong is a sign of innovating and taking risks and the measure of a leader is not just in how often you are right, but how you make a decision that turns out to be wrong, and how you respond when the facts reveal themselves.

Harari’s Lesson 8:
‘Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.’

As someone who likes to plan and is enchanted by theories, all I can say is ‘ouch!’ But I also know from my experience as a manager, leader and active project manager that Powell is spot on – plans, processes and models are nothing more than enablers that create a framework to make life easier for the people – and the best will succeed even in their absence. That is, of course, not an argument for abandoning good practices!

Harari’s Lesson 15:
Part I: ‘Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.’
Part II: ‘Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.’

I hate the way he expresses this, but I love Powell’s sentiment that we need to act on partial knowledge or face being paralysed and acting too late. But on the other hand, acting on too little information is reckless. As in everything, finding the right balance is the key to success.

One more thing…

Harari also quoted Powell (Lesson 11) as saying:

‘Fit no stereotypes.
Don’t chase the latest management fads.
The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.’

The last year or so of Pocketblog (and the next to come, I hope) has taught me that the best of the latest fads are rooted in deep wisdom, and that there is so much of it around that our job is to integrate it into our thinking so we are equipped with the flexibility to respond to whatever circumstances throw at us.

That kind of adaptability – coupled with a deep sense of public purpose – is what makes Powell an inspirational figure.

You might enjoy…

The Leadership Pocketbook

Powell on his 13 Rules (2 mins)

Powell on the most important thing in Leadership (3 mins)

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs

12 May, 2015

Abraham Maslow never set out to be a management thinker: his attention was on people in the round. It was only his desire to test out his ideas – and those of colleague Douglas McGregor – that led him to be one of the best known names among managers. His model of motivation is almost certainly the most widely known in English speaking organisations. Does it deserve to be?

Abraham Maslow


Short Biography

Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 to Jewish emigré parents, who had come to New York to escape Tsarist pogroms in Russia. There, Maslow grew up amidst antisemitism.

He took his undergraduate degree at City University of New York and then gained his MA and PhD in psychology at the University of Wisconsin in 1934. His thesis considered dominance and sexuality in Monkeys, which later led noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey to seek out his assistance in the 1940s. Maslow, however, rejected Kinsey, challenging the rigour of his research and later publishing evidence of bias in Kinsey’s sample selection (of young women for his study).

Maslow spend the late 1930s and the 1940s teaching and researching at Brooklyn College, where he published his most notable work on The Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 (A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp370-396). This was later fully documented in his most important book, Motivation and Personality.

In 1951, he moved to Brandeis University, where he stayed until 1969, a year before his death in 1970

A Humanist First

The core of Maslow’s work as a psychologist was his move away from studying the psychology of people with problems, towards people who are successful. He used the term ‘positive psychology’ and was almost certainly the first to do so. It is now widely used, since its establishment as a (now very vibrant) field of research by Martin Seligman.

However, the movement he was instrumental in had the name of humanistic psychology and it is one that last week’s Management Thinker, Mary Parker Follett would have embraced.

The Hierarchy of Needs

His major contribution was a model that was designed to explain human behaviour and has subsequently come to be used as a theory of workplace motivation. He built a needs theory of human behaviour by first grouping human needs into classes, and then arranging these classes into a hierarchy. He argued that the prospect of satisfying an unmet need leads to motivation to act or choose.

Often shown as a pyramid, with basal (or ‘deficiency’) needs at the bottom and higher (or ‘growth’) needs at the top, the sequence means that our first instinct is to focus on the lowest level of unmet need.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


Physiological Needs
include warmth, food, sex, sleep and shelter – anything necessary to survival.

Safety and Security Needs
can now be thought of as job, wage or other economic security.

Love and Belonging Needs
are for social acceptance and the development of trusting relationships.

Esteem Needs
are firstly for power, status and prestige and then, for a self-belief that our place is merited.

Self Actualisation
was what Maslow was interested in: maximising our potential, living life to the full and contributing to our society.

In more modern needs theories of motivation, like Self Determination Theory of Ryan and Deci (popularised by Daniel Pink), belonging, esteem and self actualisation are still seen as powerful workplace motivators in the forms of relatedness (love and belonging), competence (esteem), and autonomy (actualisation).


There are two critiques that are commonly levelled at the Hierarchy of Needs – one valid, one not.

It is often argued that the hierarchy presents a rigid sequence and that we continually want more, so do not fully escape the lowest levels, whilst some artist, say, will self-actualise away in lonely poverty in a cold garrett ignoring the basement motivators. In fact, Maslow himself said that the hierarchy is neither universal, nor a rigid sequence. The price his legacy pays for fame, is that most people learn the model from a few paragraphs in a text book or fifteen minutes in a management training session – and not from Maslow’s own writing. (Up goes my hand too!)

The more valid critique is the shallow research base for the model, and the reliance Maslow placed on anecdote, interview and subjective interpretation. However, we must understand his motivation: which was to create a springboard for studying what really interested him – Self Actualisation.

In fact, he did spend time in industry, studying motivation, but it was Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y that he was testing – and he found it wanting. Much as he supported it, he found it too simplistic in the real world, where people need a dose of Theory X predictability to feel fully secure.

Above and Below the Pyramid

Interesting to me is Maslow’s argument that we cannot satisfy our needs unless we have sufficient freedoms. As a humanist, he argued strongly for basic human freedoms such as expression and speech, the ability to defend ourselves, and for a society that prioritises justice.

Above the pyramid, he argued we would find needs higher than self-actualisation in the way he described it. These may be some form of aesthetic, spiritual or transcendent needs. This is an idea that Clare Graves developed into Spiral Dynamics, although the merits of that model need careful assessment.

More on Motivation

The Motivation Pocketbook



Maslow, Mahslow, Mazlov… ?

For may years, knowing he came from Russia, I pronounced his name Mazlov. My research for this article shows that I was wrong. The name is common among Polish and Western Ukrainian Jewish families, where the -ow ending is pronounced with the soft w sound. A research student of his from the early 1940s records on a Wikipedia discussion page that Maslow pronounced his own name as Mah-zlow.


Mary Parker Follett: Management Visionary

5 May, 2015

‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:

‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’

Mary Parker Follett


Brief Biography

Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.

After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.

However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:

‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’

She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in  December 1933.

Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.

Follett’s Visionary Thinking

Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.

1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations

Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.

2. Empowerment

Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.

3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)

This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.

4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership

The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.

5. Personal Responsibility

Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.

6.Management Training

If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.

7. Transformational Leadership

In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.

8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management

One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that  Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.

My one Favourite concept…

from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.

Thank you…

to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.

Managing Difficult Relationships: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)

30 April, 2015

Today we have a second guest blog from author Pete English, on the topic of ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)’.

This is part 2 of the earlier blog, ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?


Managing Difficult Relationships
Part 2: How to Handle Different Monkeys
(and what they think of you)

Rapport is easier if you can identify the kind of person that you’re dealing with.

In my last blog post I described the different kinds of primates that we encounter in the workplace, and how to spot them. This post will show you how to tailor your approach to each type of monkey.

If you’re dealing with a Chimp you’ll know because they will want to focus on the task in hand, they’ll use debate as a way of getting to the truth (which can come across as argumentative) and they will be conscious of power relationships.

If you’re dealing with a Bonobo you’ll know because they are responsive and smiley when you talk to them, they’ll appear relaxed and friendly, and their primary focus will seem to be on the relationship – forming a connection with you.

If you tend to be a Chimp and you’re dealing with a Chimp, then it’s normally pretty straightforward – you ‘get’ each other. Similarly, Bonobos recognise one another and can rely on their preferred way of working. 

But if you’re a Chimp and you have to work with a Bonobo (or vice versa) then you need to adapt your approach.

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

The Chimp misinterprets the Bonobo’s friendliness as weakness.

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

The Bonobo misinterprets the Chimp’s strongly task-focused approach as an attempt to dominate and bully.


Whether you’re a Bonobo or a Chimp, if you are facing a difficult conversation and you want to avoid being misread here are three tips to help you handle the situation:

Tip 1 Pay Careful Attention to Etiquette.

Small things matter. If you are a Chimp, be very polite and solicitous (Bonobos place great emphasis on courtesy). If you are a Bonobo, show respect for the other person and their environment but without demeaning yourself (Chimps get very agitated if their physical, organisational or psychological territory is threatened).

Tip 2 Use ‘Safe Phrases’

The following phrases press the right buttons whether you are dealing with a Chimp or a Bonobo (they convey the message ‘we are in the same troop’):

  • ‘We can handle this’
  • ‘We’ll sort this’
  • ‘We’ll get through this’

Tip 3 Get a Grip on Your Inner Primate

Recognise that we all tend to act instinctively most of the time, and that this includes becoming defensive when we feel threatened (eg in a difficult conversation).  If you have the chance, have a clear view before the encounter of:

  • how you want to behave
  • what you are going to say
  • how you will respond if the other party behaves in a certain way.

Pete’s website is and he can be contacted at   He has written three Pocketbooks:

This article was originally published at:

Steve Jobs: Unity of Opposites

28 April, 2015

Steve Jobs is one of the most analysed and written about figures in twentieth century business. On the one hand, what more can the Pocketblog say about him? On the other, how can we possibly ignore him?

Steve Jobs

Short Biography

It is hard to disentangle the biography of Steve Jobs from that of the company he co-founded, Apple. Perhaps it is enough to say that he was born in 1955, was adopted, and grew up in California, where he had eclectic interests from the start, but dominating them all was an interest in computing. While working at Atari, he was described by its cofounder, Nolan Bushnall, as ‘very often, the smartest guy in the room’.

Jobs had already been introduced to a technically excellent engineer and enthusiast, Steve Wozniak, with whom he hooked up for a number of minor ventures where Jobs’ acumen was combined with Wozniak’s expertise. In 1976, they formalised the relationship, cofounding Apple together with one of Jobs’ Atari colleagues, Ronald Wayne. Wayne is sometimes described as one of the unluckiest men alive, having sold up his shares early on, for very little money, concerned that of the three, he was the only one with assets at stake, should the nascent company fail.

The rise and rise and fall and rise of Apple is history and very well documented elsewhere. Perhaps the turning point in many ways came around the end of 1983. Concerned about the rise of Microsoft, which had entered the market in 1981 and was starting to threaten Apple’s hegemony in personal computing, Jobs made the decision to hire heavy weight corporate expertise, in the form of former PepsiCo President, John Sculley. Together, they launched the Apple Macintosh with a breakthrough TV advert directed by Ridley Scott, that many people of my generation still remember clearly. Here it is…

However, despite a successful launch, Jobs and Sculley had different visions for the technical basis of future Apple computers. It was the corporate man who won the confidence of the Board and, in 1985, Jobs found himself fired. In the period up to 1996, when Jobs returned to Apple, he built two businesses, whose legacy dominates the entertainment industry.

NeXT Computers

Whatever happened to the other computer company that Jobs founded: NeXT? Is it just a footnote or did it really have an impact? Very much the latter. It was a NeXT computer that Tim Berners-Lee worked on, when he created what we now call the World-Wide Web. And it was NeXt software that Apple subsequently used to build the iTunes store.


In 1986, Jobs bought the graphics division of George Lucas’ Lucasfilms  for $10 million, and renamed it Pixar. Its first film was Toy Story, and virtually everything it has created since has been Hollywood magic and financial gold-dust. When Jobs sold Pixar to Disney in 2006, he became Disney’s largest shareholder, by far.

Back to Apple

When Apple bought NeXt in 1996, Jobs returned to a business that, under three CEOs, had declined from 20% to 5% market share. Jobs cut investment in many projects and focused on new computers and then in other, breakthrough digital appliances: the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

The big innovation, however, was not the technology, but the move into digital sales of music and then books, films, applications and just about anything.

It is a triumph for a view that split Jobs from Apple all the way back in 1985: the integration of software and hardware.

In 2011, Jobs resigned from Apple towards the end of a long battle with pancreatic cancer, which finally defeated him in October 2011. Pocketblog marked the event.

What can the rest of us learn from Jobs?

I think that what made Jobs remarkable was the way he embraced opposites and brought unity to them. Form and Function, of course, in designs that he called ‘insanely great’. His products had to be the best they could be in both beauty and power.

Microsoft and IBM became powerful players, and today it is Google and Samsung too. But all of these companies respect a significant divide between hardware and software. Each specialises. Apple did not and continues to create tight integration and a closed system that, many argue, is the key to their simplicity and reliability*.

But the biggest integration is almost certainly the one that is primarily responsible for Apple’s awesome commercial dominance today (early 2015): the fusion of computing and entertainment. The iTunes store that sells TV, film, books, and more to consume on Apple hardware, via Apple software. Whatever next: Apple production?

So what else can we learn?

I take away five lessons form the business life of Steve Jobs:

  1. The drive and passion to create what he wanted; his vision, no matter what.
  2. The eclecticism that led to design ethics and a range of business interests that made Apple the company it is
  3. The ruthlessness and acumen that has been both lauded and criticised but, when focused well, has fed the drive
  4. The faith he had in the place of art, design, and beauty in commerce
  5. The confidence to dare to be different, combined with the acumen to make his distinctiveness the core of a brand that looks today as if it will outlive hm by many years.

In His Own Words

Whilst it is tempting to post some of Jobs’ greatest presentations in the form of landmark product launches, instead, here is a short video of Jobs addressing students of Standford University, in 2005.





* Declaration of interest: the author of this blog switched from Windows to Mac 12 months ago and has no regrets.

David McClelland: Competency and Achievement

21 April, 2015

David McClelland is best known to managers for his theory of Motivational Needs,which we covered back in 2012. He was a giant of the twentieth century psychology community, whose ideas remain relevant, practical, and valuable to manangers today.

David McClelland

Short Biography

David McClelland was born in New York state, in 1917 and grew up in Illinois. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1938, from Wesleyan University, a Master’s from the University of Missouri, and a PhD from Yale in 1941. He went on to teach at Connecticut College and then, as professor, at Wesleyan University. In 1956, he joined the Harvard University faculty as a professor, and he stayed there until his retirement to Professor Emeritus, in 1986. However, it’s hard for an active mind to stay retired, so in 1987, he started teaching at Boston University, continuing to do so up until his death in 1998.

Along the way, McClelland published many important books, few of which remain in print. Of those that do, the most notable are:

He also co-founded with David Berlew (and Chaired) a business consulting firm, McBer and Company, that trained and advised managers in recruiting and developing staff. McBer is now a part of the Hay Group.


McClelland made two primary contributions that managers should know about. The first and best known is his psychological theory of three key motivators that drive our performance in the workplace. He applied this to corporations, small businesses, the medical profession, higher education and to large scale economic development.

Motivational Needs

The three needs (discussed more fully in the earlier Pocketblog, ‘David McClelland’s Three Motivational Needs‘) are:

  1. The Need for Affiliation (nAff)
    Our drive to form attachments, to be accepted by others, and to interact with them.
  2. The Need for Power (nPow)
    Our drive to control the way people behave, to influence their thinking, and to win status.
  3. The Need for Achievement (nAch)
    Our drive to accomplish demanding tasks, reach high standards, and overcome obstacles.

He also developed the work of Henry Murray to create a “Thematic Apperception Test‘ That allows trained users to evaluate the balance of these needs in an individual, based on their story-telling response to imagery.

McClelland studied how different balances of these three motivators impact people’s performances in different job roles. For example, he concluded that the most senior managers and leaders do not fare well if they have a dominant need for achievement. Rather, they tend to have this (and a need for affiliation) at moderate levels, with a high need for power.

Entrepreneurs and middle managers, however, thrive best with a high need for achievement. So much so, indeed, that McClelland believed that a nation’s economic development was dependent on the level of need of achievement among its citizens. This is what leads, he says, to setting big (but realistic) goals, taking calculated risks, and feeling a sense of personal responsibility for our work.

Competencies at Work

In the 1960s, McClelland took what was then a radical perspective on successful recruitment. He argued that we should hire for demonstrated competencies in the area of work we need people to perform and not, as was common in the US at the time, for IQ levels and the results of batteries of personality tests. This does not seem so revolutionary now, but it is well to be aware of when this idea started to emerge. His company, McBer, was at the forefront of developing lists of competencies.

More recently, his ideas have been applied to the workplace by popular psychologist, Daniel Goleman – particularly in his 2002 book, The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership, but also in his earlier, 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence.

Learn More

There is an excellent interview with McClelland, from the end of his life, at:

For more on motivation:

For more on McClelland’s theory in particular:

Oprah Winfrey: Media Mogul

14 April, 2015

Orpah Winfrey (not a mis-spelling) was born into poverty and hardship in 1954 and rose to become both a celebrity phenomenon and a business magnate. Along the way she made many astute decisions. One of the first was to change her name, recognising that if too many people mis-pronounced Orpah as Oprah, then she may as well go with the flow. Part of her skill has been an adept assessment of the direction of flow.

Oprah Winfrey

Short Biography

There is far more biographical detail available about Oprah Winfrey than most other of our management thinkers, so let’s stick to summarising a few of the facts most relevant to our theme, and leave the more vibrant details to other sources. Many of them have been revealed on her TV shows and in her books – others have emerged through unauthorised tabloid revelations.

Winfrey’s early years in rural Mississippi with her grandmother, urban Wisconsin with her mother, and Tennessee. She experienced much hardship and poverty, including serious abuse, teenage pregnancy, and bereavement.

It was while living with her father for a second time that she started to succeed at school, enter Tennessee State University and land a news job on the local radio station, WVOL in Nashville. This led to a news anchor role at the local TV station, WTVF-TV (then WLAC-TV). She was a television natural and had evident star quality. In 1976, she moved to Baltimore as a news co-anchor at WJZ-TV, which didn’t work out well for her, but the senior executive at the station suggested she co-host a chat show instead.

Although she was reluctant at first, and both she and the station considered it a risk, this was her defining moment: the audience loved her and the show’s ratings rose rapidly. In 1984, she took on a new role as host of WLS-TV’s prime morning talk show, AM Chicago, broadcast head-to-head with the top-rated talk-show, hosted by Phil Donahue. Within a month, it was Winfrey who rated number one.

In 1985, she co-starred in Steven Spielberg’s multi-Oscar-nominated movie, The Color Purple, winning an Oscar nomination herself as best supporting actress. The following year she launched her nationally syndicated show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her style of being open and honest with her emotions made her a national hit with many millions of viewers.

Two years later, her astute business sense became evident, as she bought the rights to her own show, set up a production company (Harpo – Oprah backwards), and build a $20m studio in Chicago. After Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball, Winfrey was the third woman to own a major US studio. Hwer business life continued and continues to be a huge success, making her a multi-billionaire.

What Business Lessons can we Learn from Oprah Winfrey?

It is easy to think of Winfrey as a media celebrity: her TV chat show is the foundation of her business empire and she has 22 credits as an actress. But she is producer on half as many again films and TV shows and she is owner of a huge portfolio of media assets including TV networks, production companies, and magazines.

I think there are three principal lessons that any business person or manager can learn from her:

  1. The value of sheer grit and determination. Yes, Oprah surely has talent, but to triumph over the hardships she faced, Winfrey needed hard work and persistence. Throughout her life, she struggled with setbacks, but has always pushed forward.
  2. Recognise your strongest assets, and take control of them. From her earliest exploitation of her talents as a speaker when she went to a local radio station to collect a prize for winning the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, Winfrey has spotted her opportunities well and taken control. The best example is her decision to buy out the rights to her TV show and become its producer. This was a big risk and most hosts are content to stay just that: Winfrey was not. This is what made her a media mogul, rather than a media celebrity.
  3. When rivals start to challenge you, shift ground to differentiate yourself. In the early 1990s, the Oprah Winfrey Show was a huge success and therefore, inevitably, widely copied by other producers. Everyone was interviewing anyone with a tale of woe, and the more salacious the better. Amid this race to the tabloid bottom, Winfrey took a step upwards. She started to produce uplifting shows that she started to call ‘change your life TV’. Instead of wallowing in people’s misery, she offered audiences a choice of improvement… which they loved. In transforming her show, she charted her way to where she sits now as a celebrity: a champion for highbrow self-help (and, to be fair, some practitioners offering advice that is less than empirically validated).

In 2003, Michael Moore wrote that Oprah should run for US President. That would be a shift, and it would take grit too. Will she do it?

Hear Oprah Winfrey in her own words

For more about her career and her advice to listen to your instincts, here is an interview (c.65 min) she gave at Stanford’s Business School in 2014.



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