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Reflection on Motivational Theories

To talk about motivational theories of leadership is somewhat tautologous (Repeating the same thing in different words), in that it would be hard to think of someone wanting to be a leader without a reason, or motivation. Style, rank, organization, or other factors in a leadership situation shape a person's motivation for being a leader, but we still need to consider that motivation is inextricably connected with psychology; it is psychology that prompts persons to think that leadership can be a means for classifying leaders according to motivation. However, psychological factors aren't the only aspect that should be considered, the context, the task itself as well as the other individuals are directly impacting one's profound motivation. There are literally a few dozens of psychological theories. For motivational theories alone, wikipedia lists 29 of them. Some are named after the egos that fostered them, such as Clayton Alderfer's ERG Theory or the admittedly famous Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Yet, one can go to the prestigious publisher Elsevier for its Dictionary of Psychological Theories for what seems to be a toned down rendition of "basic" motivational theories in psychology:

  1. Hedonic or Pleasure Motivational Theories
  2. Cognitive or Need-to-Know Motivational Theories
  3. Growth or Actualization Motivational Theories

An internet search will yield others.

Underscoring psychological theories are psychological conditions that characterize a person, and for this, we need to start with peer-reviewed literature. This is not to say that what the literature posits is etched in stone, but we need to start some place, with the proviso that there probably will be some future revisions and despite criticisms launched against it, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV -TR) used by psychologists and psychiatrists is an option. The intent isn't to identify the motivation for leadership, but a way of classifying behavior outside the norm. That is, in a broader sense, the DSM can be regarded as a catalog of behavior, or states as opposed to disorders.

The personality characteristic that pushes a person toward leadership is not the norm, as the definition implies, a leader is set apart from the rest, and in a peculiar sort of way, is not within the realm of the ordinary. In fact, because everyone is different, one could argue that they are not normal; hence, they have a mental "disorder". "Order" connotes regularity, or expectation. Of course, there is controversy about who is a "regular" person. Surely, though, the fact that one person is in a role to which another responds, i.e., being a "leader", be it via guidance or imposition of authority, there is a difference. In the usual context, leaders are found in situations where there is more than one person whom a leader directs or guides. We can say, then, the leader is different from the rest, or not normal. Otherwise, everyone would be a leader. At another level, however, taking the class of leaders all across various societies, the leader may be normal, insofar as leaders go. She or he may not do anything out of what would be expected of a leader in that situation. Normality, then, is contextual.

If someone was thrust into a leadership position, the motivation would be the need to respond in a positive way to the demand of being a leader. Leadership positions vary in levels and range from being the president of a country or its dictator to chairing a small group in a small club. In essence, even with two persons, one could be the leader of the other and thus limiting the scope of leadership to one of guidance or teaching another how to perform a specific task. For these reasons, we can see a that leadership resides on a continuum.

So, let's see how the DSM can be used as a classification device for psychological states, or behavior. The DSM-IV-TR, page xxxi, includes the definition of mental disorder that was in the DSM-III-R, that is:

...each of the mental disorders is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, or disability, or an important loss of freedom. In addition, this syndrome of pattern must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event ... . ... it must be currently considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual. Neither deviant behavior (e.g., political, religious, or sexual) nor conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are mental disorders unless the deviance or conflict is a symptom of or a dysfunction in the individual, as described above.

The DSM-III-R also states that "no definition adequately specifies precise boundaries for the concept "mental disorder". In addition, the distinction between "dysfunction" and "disorder" are also not well delineated as noted in "DSM-III-R Definition of Mental Disorder" writen by R.S. SAGAR, M.D., (Webpage no longer valid) and as a result leaves the reader confused.

We also have an international classification scheme, The International Classification of Diseases, Version 10 (ICD-10) that has ten categories of mental disorders:

  • F00-F09 Organic, including symptomatic, mental disorders
  • F10-F19 Mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use
  • F20-F29 Schizophrenia, schizotypal and delusional disorders
  • F30-F39 Mood [affective] disorders
  • F40-F48 Neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders
  • F50-F59 Behavioural syndromes associated with physiological disturbances and physical factors
  • F60-F69 Disorders of adult personality and behaviour
  • F70-F79 Mental retardation
  • F80-F89 Disorders of psychological development
  • F90-F98 Behavioural and emotional disorders with onset usually occurring in childhood and adolescence
  • F99 Unspecified mental disorder

The ICD states,

Disorder' is not an exact term, but is used here to imply the existence of a clinically recognizable set of symptoms or behavior associated in most cases with distress and with interference with personal functions. Social deviance or conflict alone, without personal dysfunction, should not be included in mental disorder as defined here [].

Again, we should look at this list for classifying behaviors, rather than placing a person in a box labeled with a disorder. Some behaviors clearly are non-standard, such as being delusional. Truly, is there a blue dragon flying all around a packed concert hall and no one seems bothered about calling a news station? Yet, when is a person really being neurotic? The problems, among others, are ascertaining objective boundary conditions.

As somewhat of a sidebar, there really has been no validation of these classification schemes; they are based upon clinical observation. Researchers collect all across the spectrum of clinicians and observational situations descriptions of how people act, find out what the "usual" is and then note deviances. They attempt to account for cultural differences, ages, intelligence of various types, physical conditions of those being observed, and so forth. An emerging field is brain scanning, which includes positron emission tomography (PET), computerized axial tomography (CAT), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Scientists attempt to correlate the various scans with the clinical observations. This means that there is a measurable component of the subjective description, which results in a regular and consistent measure of the phenomenon. The field, however, is nascent (emerging), and for the time being we will have to endure the periodic revisions of the classification schemas based upon subjectivity until the technology can provide us with a complete set of measurement.

So, how can the classification schema be used to typify a leader's motivation? Or the origin of his motivation for that matter? This field is open to research, but some ideas can be ventured by asking the question whether it is conceivable for a psychological state, such as delusion - to take an extreme case - to be a motivator for leadership? Of course, we can think of a Stalin or a Hitler. We also must consider that there can be multiple motivators based on behavioral states. Depression often is regarded by psychological therapists as "anger being turned inward". There is nothing to suggest that the anger cannot be directed outwardly, such as these dictators did. Personality disorder surely can enter as motivators, as well as neuroses and mood. It only remains as an exercise for people to do the needed categorization of motivations based on these peer-reviewed schemas rendered by the DSM and ICD.

Share your thoughts

Sharing your motivating thoughts or your motivational tips will benefit every leader. Motivation is what give them the energy to constantly seek to improve their self-motivation as well as motivating other. Consequently increase our leadership influence.

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