There’s no doubt that leaders are driven. But do they balance these four basic human drives?

The late Harvard Business School Professor Paul R. Lawrence and Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria propose a theory of four basic drives that motivate all humans in Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices (Jossey-Bass, 2002). The drives are:

  1. To acquire what we need for survival, conception and our offspring’s survival. This drive far surpasses our drives to acquire food, water, warmth and a mate. We are driven to attain things that interest us, give us a sense of identity and meet our loved ones’ needs.
  2. To defend ourselves and our offspring from threats. We’ll protect our family and groups to which we belong, our ideas and beliefs, our sense of pride and hope, and our self-image.
  3. To bond and form long-term, mutually caring and trusting relationships with others.
  4. To comprehend (to learn, create, innovate, and make sense of the world and our place in it).

Leadership, they note, must effectively balance these four basic human drives. While other species survive by feeding, mating, fighting and fleeing, humans survive by feeding, mating, fighting, fleeing, befriending and figuring out.

Humans have evolved to survive differently from other animals. We have endured as a species because we learned to work in groups and rely on problem-solving skills, rather than brute force, inborn physical capacities and instincts.

We achieve an optimal state of leadership when we cultivate and consciously manage all four drives. It’s not enough to be mindful of one or two of them. As Lawrence and Nohria wrote:

“We would predict that those who have found ways to satisfy all four drives (at least over time) will feel more fulfilled than those who have focused on some to the exclusion of others.”

Lawrence expands his theories in Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2010), citing contemporary brain research that supports how the four drives influence decision-making and actions.

As a leader or manager, how are you balancing all four drives in making business decisions that respect the drives to acquire, defend, bond and comprehend? If you’re ignoring one drive in favor of another you may find yourself and your organization in trouble.

In the work I do coaching leaders in organizations, we discuss how to make balanced decisions that sustain progress and profits. Maybe it’s time we have that conversation? You can contact me here.