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NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- Does raw ambition account for personal style differences, or is it something deeper -- something about the way we are put together? Is having a thirst for power really all that bad? Perhaps we should examine the motivation behind it.
Motives are defined by behavioral scientists as "natural incentives that drive daily behavior." Natural incentives may include: Achievement, recognition, or deepening relationships. Money is not a "natural incentive," and thus, is not considered a motive. Power, however, is a motive -- a particularly interesting one.
The defining characteristic of those with a high need for power, or the theorists' term nPow, is the strong desire to have an impact on others -- the bigger, the better. Even in small children, we can see early manifestations of a power orientation: "Look at me, look me, everybody, look at me!" Or, maybe with one of your children, you don't have to guess what she's thinking; you always know because she tells you. Then, there is the child who jumps out of the closet to scare brothers and sisters, or one who enjoys teasing mom. It's fun to upset others.
Power can be good. As adults, individuals with heightened nPow enjoy organizing others, teaching and coaching, and being philanthropic.
High-power professions include: Teaching, consulting, speaking, writing and acting. Successful trial lawyers have heightened nPow (estate attorneys do not), so do politicians, Little League coaches and corporate executives. Outstanding performance in these professions requires a strong "power" motive.
Successful executives feel good when they stand in front of people and take charge. They like defining how work will be done, they balance empowerment and control and they are comfortable firing people who do not meet standards.
In contrast, a sales executive low nPow is less comfortable teaching, delegating and following-up. He finds it easier to close the sale himself and forgive those who miss quota. But in attempting to be nice, he inadvertently creates a revolt among team members who wonder why he is doing their job and why he tolerates laggards.