8 Theories of Motivation that underscore the drivers of behaviour

By Bhudeb Chakrabarti

Good leadership consists of motivating people to the highest levels by   offering them opportunities, not obligations.  ~ Lao Tzu 

Nature of Motivation

Motives are expressions of a person’s needs and personality.

Even though you may find it comforting to believe that all your actions are a result of conscious deliberation, but at times, unconscious motivations may lead to actions without your complete awareness or understanding. Your behaviour is controlled on many occasions by external forces, though on many other occasions you may do things based on your discretion, for their intrinsic value.

Motivations are not static in nature. A person may be motivated for one job but when he or she is put for some other job, the same person may not feel motivated. The levels of motivation also vary from person to person.

A leader must understand what gives people the impetus to act in a particular manner to achieve alignment of their goals with his/her own goals.


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams


Different theories help us to understand better the concept of motivation:


Theories of Motivation

1. Psychoanalytic Theory of Sigmund Freud

Freud believed that the id, ego, and super ego, according to Feud, are the three aspects of mind that make up a person’s personality.

The id is the part of the mind, which holds the most basic and primal instincts of humans. Id seeks immediate satisfaction, without consideration for any form of reality or consequence. The Ego realizes that not all drives can be met at a given time, and balances out the desires originating in the id with the person’s ethical and cultural ideals.

Superego can be considered to be the conscience of the mind because it has the ability to distinguish between reality, as well as what is right or wrong. The superego is considered to be the “consciousness” of a person’s personality and can override the drives from the id.
According to Freud, aggression and sexuality are two powerful motivations in everyone’s life.

However, many psychologists are of the opinion that Freud overemphasized sexual and aggressive instincts as the powerful sources of motivation, while underestimating the potential for continual development throughout the life period.


2. Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Motivation

Abraham Maslow was of the view that human nature is essentially good and focused on the bright side of human personality. According to Maslow, to be human is to continually need something. He contended that our desires can be arranged in a hierarchy of human needs in an ascending order:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Image Source : Wikipedia

Level One: Physiological Needs

People at this level are primarily concerned about their survival. They are preoccupied for access to basic necessities as food, water, air, shelter, sleep etc.

Level Two: Safety and Security Needs

After the basic physiological needs have been fulfilled, they become less important. The safety and security needs now assume prominence as these are needed to ensure peaceful existence.

Level Three: Social Needs for Love and Belonging

When the first two needs have been realised people would feel the need for love, belonging and social contact.

Level Four: Esteem Needs

Esteem needs are related to the need for appreciation, recognition and status that help people to feel their worth and develop self-esteem.

Level Five: Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization is the highest need in the hierarchy of human needs. It is the aspiration for achieving one’s fullest potential.

Maslow said that lower level needs must be satisfied before higher level needs become dominant. At any particular time one level of needs dominates. He further said that when all other needs have been satisfied and they are no more potent, then a person will actively seek out new responsibilities and aspire to scale higher and higher peaks of self –development and growth

Maslow’s theory of motivation received wide recognition. However Maslow himself gave no empirical substantiation of his theory and some studies proved that the theory found no support.


3. Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor gave two contrasting views of human nature. His Theory X presents a dismal view of human nature in that the people dislike work and are needed to be watched over closely in respect of their work. Theory Y assumptions are positive where people are self-directed and they accept responsibility and consider work to be as natural as play and rest.

McGregor believed that Theory Y assumptions are more valid and people will be motivated by participation in decision making and challenging jobs. However there is no evidence to confirm either Theory X or Theory Y assumptions.


4. Herzberg’s Motivation- Maintenance Theory 

Closely related to Maslow’s Theory, Herzberg’s theory divides needs into two groups. Maintenance or Hygiene Factors, like pay, working conditions, job security, organisational policy and interpersonal relations, will not motivate but they should be present failing which dissatisfaction will set in. Motivators include advancement, recognition, achievement and challenging job. The theory has its limitations as when things go fine human nature will like to take credit and if things fail external forces are blamed.


5. McClelland’s Three Needs Theory of Motivation

According to David McClelland, there are three types of needs:

  1. Need for achievement
  2. Need for power
  3. Need for affiliation

People who want to do a thing better than before and further want to excel are having the need for achievement. Some other people who would like to influence others to do things as they want are actuated by the need for power. People desiring close interpersonal relations have the need for affection. McClelland opined that the achievement need can be taught to people to achieve high.


6. Goal Setting Theory

Goal Setting Theory, related to Management By Objectives (MBO, which has substantial support), emphasizes that establishing difficult and challenging goals result in better performance. Goals are the main antecedents to behaviour of men and women at work.


7. Equity Theory of Motivation

Equity Theory of Motivation developed by J .Stacey Adams is based on the concept that a major factor in motivation is a person’s evaluation of the reward received. Equity can be defined as the ratio between the inputs and reward of a particular person compared to rewards of others for their similar inputs. Equity prevails when their ratios are equivalent. The theory is applicable to understand motivation of people.


8. Expectancy Theory of Motivation

Martin Luther observed centuries ago that

Everything that is done in the world is in hope.


Victor Broom’s, Expectancy Theory of Motivation, the most comprehensive explanation of motivation and supported by research evidence, states that a person’s motivation would be determined by his anticipated value of the outcomes of the action multiplied by the strength of that person’s expectancy that outcomes would yield the desired goal.

Using his own terms Broom’s Theory may be stated as follows:

        Force = Valence x Expectancy

Where Force is the person’s motivation, Valence is the person’s preference for an outcome and Expectancy is the probability that a particular action would lead to the desired outcome.


Jean Paul Jones

We must understand that people are motivated by their needs, not ours and one of our jobs is to create organisational conditions in which people will achieve organisational needs by achieving their needs..


The morale of the people in an organisation represents their feeling towards the entire work environment and influences their attitude to work.

People may have the ability, but if they are not motivated or they do not have the impetus to act, they will not put in their best. That is where a leader has to step in, to inspire and influence people and set specific and clear goals that give people a cause to channelize their efforts.

Finally, the relationship between the leader and the people is essentially circular, not linear. People influence and motivate a leader as much as a leader influences and motivates people.


This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.

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  1. Management- James A.F. Stoner and Charles Wankel ( Prentice Hall of India )

2.Management Concepts and Applications –Leon C. Megginson and others( Harper Row Publishers  New York )

3.Management-Stephen P.Robbins and Mary Coulter (Prentice Hall of India)

4.Mastering Human Relations –Anthony Falikowski (Prentice Hall Canada)

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