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McClelland’s Three Manifest Needs Theory and Its Practical Implications

A human need does not stop when his or her sense of physical survival is secured. Humans have to possess clothing, food, and shelter. As social beings, they also have the need to socialize in order to grow, enhance their sense of individuality, and explore their full potentials. David McClelland focused his works on secondary human needs in connection to their nature as social beings. Due to inconsistent level of peoples’ self esteem or self confidence, McClelland recognized that people naturally need motivation as the major psychological reinforcement to cause them to be active.

Every need that a social being realizes must be fulfilled through engaging in different social activities. David McClelland developed and suggested three needs that drive people to act accordingly. These are needs for achievement, affiliation, and power which will be totally attained through the help of the society. Everybody possesses all three needs in varying degrees. However, there is one dominant need in a person one at a time that drives or motivates an individual behavior.

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People’s innate abilities, their constructed skills from experience, resources, and motivations are the important and interdependent factors that help those three needs to be achieved. Knowing one’s motivational needs with the use of McClelland’s Three Manifest Needs Theory characterizes an individual’s style and behavior especially in the work place and any other activity that requires collective work. Before discussing and elaborating on McClelland’s Three Manifest Needs Theory, it is worthy to discuss first how he came up with these theories.

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Before David McClelland, another psychologist named Henry Murray (1938) already developed a list of 28 needs that humans may experience. Among these are the needs for achievement, affiliation, and dominance. Murray claimed that people’s “needs are mostly acquired in the course of life rather than inherited” and can be activated by exposing them to the environment as social beings (Bemporad & Slipp, 1982, p. 69) The individual’s specific needs are shaped by his or her early experiences which include his or her experience in culture, religion, politics, social expectations, etc.

The acquired needs will be manifested when one is given challenging and different tasks in the society instead of activities that are monotonous and routinary. Later on, McClelland extracted Murray’s model and condensed the originally 28 needs into three. He made researches through observation and statistics to draw conclusions towards the particular behaviors of those individuals under these three categories of needs. Behavioral scientists and psychologists have observed that some people have an intense need to achieve.

McClelland put those people under this category of “need for achievement” in the elaborated behaviors which is in a more positive and affirmative light compared to the other two needs theories. Basically, “the need for achievement” is reflected in being goal-oriented, engaging in competitive behavior, seeking challenges, taking risks, and [taking] personal responsibility to resolve problems” (Butler, 2002, p. 197). These kinds of people know exactly what they want; they recognize their strengths and weaknesses and are confident that their sense of judgment can be trusted.

Most of the time, their motivations are more than for themselves but set goals for the needs and interests of many people. McClelland said that people under this category give importance to fulfilling a sense of “achievement more than material or financial reward” (Chapman, 2008, n. p. ). Moreover, “feedback is essential because it enables measurement of success, not for reasons of praise or recognition” (Chapman, 2008, n. p. ). They aim for improvement if something went wrong. These kinds of people are idealists, giving their best shot in every performance. McClelland firmly believed that achievement-motivated people are generally the ones who make things happen and get results” (Chapman, 2008, n. p. ). The certain characteristics of those individuals motivated by “the need for achievement” can easily be traced in the workplace. A particular employee in this category like working on jobs that are moderately challenging or those jobs that are not too easy or too difficult to accomplish. Predominantly, they perceive the success of the outcome of the very high challenging jobs as one of chance rather than one’s own effort.

Moreover, they perceive very high challenging jobs as too risky and sometimes too unrealistic for them to acquire positive results. Meanwhile, too easy tasks for them are too boring and have little challenge that does not call for the exercise of their intelligence, talents, and capabilities. Hence, individuals under this category are realistic individuals who love facing realistic challenges. When the goal is unrealistic, they believe that “its achievement is dependent on chance rather than personal skill or contribution” (Chapman, 2008, n. . ). They do not really need praise and recognition after accomplishing a particular task since personal sense of achievement is more important to them. Achievement of the task is their reward itself. From the given description above, it is then understandable that “achievement motivation is positively related to the leadership of small task-oriented groups and small entrepreneurial firms and negatively related to the effectiveness of high- level managers in complex organizations or in political situations” (Yasgoor & Kaplan 2008, p. 38).

According to McClelland however, the levels “of the nation’s need for achievement is correlated to the country’s economic development” (Slipp & Bemporad 1982, p. 69). The realistic exemplary achievements of the people under “the need for achievement,” no matter how small, often contribute to the gross national product of the country since they always accumulate positive results in whatever areas. The need for affiliation, on the other hand, “is seen on those people who want to be liked and enjoy close relationships. These individuals need approval and join many groups for social interaction” (Butler 2002, p. 194).

Apparently, this kind of individuals tend to conform to the norms of their social network or work group to feel accepted which, as a result, cause them to have difficulty in objective decision making. Customer service, customer and client interaction, and public relations are some of the best suited job for them. Moreover, teamwork, cooperative effort, joint problem solving endeavors and committee assignments immensely help this individuals to perform well on their jobs. Meanwhile, aside from feeling a sense of belongingness, they also want others to feel the same way. Thus, they also want to develop, help, and teach others.

Moreover, they develop a strong sense of sensitivity towards the members of certain groups or societies. Their emotions most of the time dominate their logic and sense of rationality. When being confronted by a problem or conflict, he or she will initially consider how his or her perceived resolutions will affect his or her relationships. His or her choices depend on how he or she will affect his or her community where he or she feels loved and a sense of belongingness. Moreover, the meaning of one’s existence on this category depends on the quality of the relationship they created with other people.

Basically, individuals “under the need for affiliation” value relationships over accomplishments and friendship over power. It is also very apparent that “people with high affiliative needs were not concerned with task performances and its possible consequences to their individuality unless they were instrumental in building meaningful relations to other individuals” (Atkinson & Reitman, 1956, p. 361). Women, according to studies, have shown that they have a higher level of affiliation motivation than men, and compared to other two Manifest Needs Theories of McClelland (Stewart & Chester, 1982).

This may be because of the fact that women look for achievement in roles which are associated with their respective families and homes. Men, on the other hand, have a higher level of power and achievement motivation compared to women (Stewart & Chester 1982). This is mainly because men have a higher level of aggression physically, and they are often expected to provide for their families. Women seem to associate helping others with achievement while for men, helping others frequently often means controlling and leading them (Jenkins, 1987). Finally, the people under the need for power “tend to seek out authority.

Moreover, they like to control and they enjoy competitive situations, especially when they have a competitive edge” (Buhler, 2002, p. 194). People who have high need for power are also characterized by their “desire to make an impact on others, the desire to influence others and have a concern for maintaining leader follower relations” (Murugan, 2004,p. 306). Needs are based on personality, preference, and social orientation of a person which are developed as people interact with the environment. The needs vary since a person’s judgment changes depending on his or her orientation and level of experiences.

For example, if a person went to a place with a total different culture, he or she may be influenced by that culture because he or she might feel more at ease and more comfortable with that environment. As human beings learn things from experience through fellow human beings, literature, media, and other mediums, they will likely discover more about themselves that can alter their previous motivations or needs. Every person experiences those three needs presented by McClelland. However, only one need dominates the other one at a time. A person’s actions or behavior depends on a person’s intentions and motivations.

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McClelland’s Three Manifest Needs Theory and Its Practical Implications. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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