When I studied at Harvard, my mentor was David McClelland, a motivation expert. He proposed three main motivators. I think of each as a different path to activating the brain’s reward centers and increasing our drive and persistence:
Motivator 1: the need for power—in the sense of influencing or impacting other people. McClelland distinguished between two kinds of power. One is selfish, ego-centered power, without caring whether the impact is good or bad—the kind of power displayed by narcissists, for example. The other is a socially beneficial power, where you take pleasure in influencing people for the better or for the common good.
Motivator 2: the need to affiliate—taking pleasure in being with people. Those high in this motive are motivated by the sheer pleasure of doing things together with people they like. When we’re working toward a common goal, they find energy in how good we’ll all feel when we reach that goal. Great team members may also be driven by this motive.
Motivator 3: the need for achievement —reaching toward a meaningful goal. Those high in this motive love to keep score, to get feedback on performance, whether this means hitting their numbers or raising millions for a charity. They strive to improve—they’re relentless learners. No matter how good they are today, they try to do even better.