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Power, performance, affiliation. What stimulates top-ranking managers?


Power, performance, affiliation. What stimulates top-ranking managers?

Hilde Ham

Damen, B. Leadership and motivation. What drives and stimulates top-ranking managers in Dutch organisations? Assen: Van Gorcum, 2007, 204 pages, ISBN 9 789023 243007, € 27.50.

Management consultant and psychologist Ber Damen had two reasons for investigating the drive and motives of top-ranking managers. Firstly, he is fascinated by them. He wonders what inner drive pushes them to aspire to these lonely-at-the-top functions. Secondly, he has his doubts about the present day management trend of giving competences such a dominant role. He feels too little attention is given to motivation.

Damen distinguishes between drive and motive within the broader concept of motivation. Drive is predominantly unconscious and has an emotional basis, whereas motives are usually conscious and rational. He is convinced that positive motivation is just as important for top-ranking managers to function successfully as the right competences profile. It is not clear, however, what he based his premise on. Damen’s ultimate aim in writing this thesis was to try to find a link between the motivation of top-ranking Dutch managers and the success of the organisations for which they work. He assumed that ‘the manager probably makes the organisation’, and ‘the organisation the manager’. Their influence is mutual. His research followed two pathways: a motivational and a biographical one.

In the second theoretical chapter, Damen introduces us to predecessors that influenced this research. He quotes McClelland (1987) in distinguishing three basic forms of human drive: power, performance and affiliation. Drive can be investigated using the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) (Morgan & Murray, 1935) which is still controversial even today. This psychological test involved asking clients to tell a story about what they see in various black-and-white photos. Projective measuring instruments are often associated with what is called the clinical method in scientific circles. It involves giving an opinion about people using intuition and personal impressions.

Damen responds to a number of the criticisms related to the use of the TAT. According to Hermans (1967) the results of projective tests are too sensitive to situational influences and must therefore be regarded as unreliable. Damen comments that this did not prevent Hermans from using the results of this test to set up an ideal-type profile of people who are motivated by performance. According to Lazarus (1957, 1966) TAT measures fantasies; fantasy and performance being two alternative manifestations that preclude each other, but Damen does not agree because he believes, just as Van der Vlist (2003), that fantasy is related to performance. Fantasy may allow desires to be satisfied temporarily but ultimate satisfaction should belong in one's daily routine.

When the projective tests and clinical methods were rejected and replaced by psychometric tests and statistical methods, Damen believes an error of logic was committed. An absolute psychology, free of any interpretation, is not possible according to Damen and he, together with Bruner (1986) and Van der Vlist (2003), favours pragmatic research that produces usable, workable knowledge and insights.

In chapter 3, Damen introduces the idea of the ‘life story’, something which is unique and different for each individual. Stories possess both strengths and weaknesses. The master work of Kurosawa Rashomon makes this very clear; four people who witnessed a rape incident gave different accounts of what happened. Memories appear to be coloured by emotions and history. Stories about events that people have gone through are weak because they are a mixture of fiction, reality and social desire. At the same time, this is their strength because stories allow for diversity and contextualism. It is not a question of seeking the indisputable, absolute truth. This is why narrative, constructivist reality differs so fundamentally from logical positivism. Damen uncovered the life stories of 70 top-ranking managers by using semi-structured interviews and defended this method of research by referring to the factors time, effort and methodology.

As far as I'm concerned, the time factor is not an important one. If a top-ranking manager can free up the time for a 90-minute interview, he can just as easily fill in a questionnaire or participate in a focus group. I also draw the line at the idea of an interview requiring less effort because they can be scary, confrontational, very personal and can ask a great deal of a person – especially in Damen’s situation where roles are reversed. In such cases, top-ranking managers are not the ones to set the tone; the researcher does that. Moreover, 90 minutes for an interview seems rather little for digging out in-depth facts about family circumstances, education and work experience. The suggestive questions "How important are money, status and respect?" and "How important are power and influence?" (Appendix 2) are likely to produce socially desirable answers and Damen fully admits this. I feel he should have asked different questions in order to get his in-depth answers. Unstructured in-depth interviews, perhaps combined with photographic material, symbolic objects or images, would have been better, because semi-structured interviews are a constraint on story-telling. Damen chooses a Mixed Method methodology in which qualitative data are processed statistically. This means he departed from social constructivism, joining the more traditional, scientific-realistic and functionalist movements within philosophy. As a final comment he is also interested in employing facts and patterns.

Top-ranking managers work in organisations that are successful to a greater or lesser degree. In making his selection of successful and average organisations, Damen used the Management Team top-500 list. He believed this approaches the type of valuation made by the Dutch Quality Institute in 1991. The problem with this type of peer group rating is clear: image and experiential scores represent something quite different from facts and figures. He subsequently assumed that a consistently successful image over a period of five years (as perceived by a management peer group) is a real indication of success. This reasoning does not strengthen the weak link in the research because positive or negative images in the work situation will be confirmed rather than amended. A cleaned-up image leads to bias and is usually far removed from turnover and real production figures. Appearances are deceptive as was demonstrated in the case of Van der Hoeven (Ahold Holdings) and his side letters .

This research group exposed the gender imbalance among business executives mercilessly; only four women held a top-ranking position in the organisations involved in this research and none of them worked for a company that traded on the stock exchange.

Damen contradicts himself when he tries to explain the following: of the managers he approached, the managers in the control group were more willing to participate in the research than those in the research group. He believed that managers in successful organisations are asked to do interviews so often that they are rather strict in what they agree to (2007: 68). However, on the previous page he states that hardly any research was carried out at the highest levels (2007: 67). The low percentage of participation could not have been due to the letter of invitation (appendix 5) because this was well written and contained clear sentences such as "a number of organisations have already taken part" and "perhaps it is unnecessary to say so, but I would like to assure you that my motives for carrying out this research are totally scientific, without any commercial reasons whatsoever." One reason for not participating in this research may be linked with secretaries who regularly function as gatekeepers. Perhaps they automatically filter out such requests.

Appendix 4 contains a list of managers (and their organisations) who declined; Hans Wijers (Akzo Nobel) and Peter Bakker (TPG) were two of the managers who refused to take part in this research - both of them as many as three times, so the researcher must also have approached them three times. Jeroen van der Veer (Shell) only refused once and Gerard Kleisterlee (Philips) twice. It seems the frequencies with which people were approached varied. No reason is given for this and I cannot imagine what the added value is of all this factual information.

After the information about the research method, chapter 6 contains an analysis and the results. The qualitative data was analysed using the coding method of Winter (1994) (Appendix 1). Damen then used data from the two research lines to make various quantitative comparisons: a correlation analysis, cross tabulations, chi-square tests, t-tests, etc. The results are clearly presented in histograms, box plots, figures and frequency tables.

Top-ranking managers are driven by power, somewhat less by performance and hardly at all by affiliation, was Damen’s conclusion, and according to the managers, money is not a motive either. Damen appears to believe them; I do not. Money may not be a primary motive but it certainly represents power, esteem, recognition, the hunger for success and respect. It is well-known that managers keep an eye on their colleagues; earning less than them is out of the question. Every manager ultimately wishes to be at the top of the earnings ladder. Damen also suggests that successful managers that have reached the top in the Netherlands, are more likely to deploy their powers in a morally responsible and socially acceptable manner than their less successful colleagues. The latter tend to use their power to glorify themselves; they have not yet reached the top and may be more concerned about themselves than about others.

Damen distinguishes certain dilemmas in his recommendations in chapter 7. One of these is giving feedback and at the same time finding it difficult to receive feedback from others in an open and honest manner (2007: 141). He does not explain the reasons for this difficulty in receiving feedback; is this the fault of the manager or of the person giving the feedback? In fact, it is not clear to me what the dilemma is precisely. The reason why it is more difficult for top-ranking managers to function as a model could be due to long-term planning, the nature of the issues involved and also the physical and psychological distance, according to Damen. I could follow some of this reasoning but some parts do not make sense to me. Most managers indicate that they "do not always know what most of their employees do, but these employees always know what the executives in a company do." (2007: 142). The first statement is probably correct but the second is a misconception, as far as I am concerned. Employees on the work floor normally have no idea what senior managers do precisely because the latter are inaccessible, invisible and cannot be contacted, and it is well known that being far removed can lead to fantasies, gossips and assumptions.


This book -- including the drawbacks -- can be recommended to managers and researchers. The discord caused by projective research efforts is up for discussion again, so the protagonists and antagonists can continue their debate. This research is also interesting because of the combination of Mixed Methods as Damen demonstrates that a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods within one research project is totally feasible. As would be expected, further research is desirable because in addition to motivation there are many other variables that influence managerial behaviour. Who is next?

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Words. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hermans, H. (1967). Motivatie en Prestatie. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Lazarus, R.S., Baker, R., Broverman, D. & Maier, J. (1957). Personality and psychological stress. Journal of Personality, 25, 559-577.

Lazarus, R.S. (1966). Storytelling and the measurement of motivation. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 30, 483-487.

McClelland, D.C. (1987). Human Motivation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Morgan, C.D. & Murray, H.A. (1935). A method for investigating fantasies: The Thematic Apperception Test. Archives of Neurological Psychiatry, 34, 289-306.

Vlist, R. van der (2003). Het Veranderen van de Narcistische Organisatie. Enkele kantteke­ningen vanuit de psychoanalyse. Utrecht: Lemma.

Winter, D.G. (1994). Manual for scoring motive imagery in running text . Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

A reaction

Ber Damen

Hilde Ham has written a fine, well-thought-out – and in respect of some of the points complimentary – review of my thesis. I am very grateful to her. This means at least one person has read my thesis, and even studied it. After all, that is ultimately the reason writers write something……. we want to be read.

Although I thank her sincerely, I would also like to make use of the possibility that KWALON is offering me, namely to react to her account, because as far as a number of minor points are concerned, she has not read my thesis carefully enough, or perhaps not completely understood it. I am going to deal with those points one by one, and will try to provide an answer to the questions that Ms Ham asked, implied or evoked.

In the first place, Ms Ham asked herself why I was so convinced that "a strong motivation is just as important for enabling a top-ranking manager to function successfully as a good competence profile". My conviction stems first of all from my noticing that in the modern business organisation, competence management dominates everything else. This applies not only to top-ranking managers but also to all employees in the organisation. Every self-respecting business works with competence profiles: there are competence development plans and pathways, competences acquired through experience, evaluation and reward systems based on competences, competence training courses, etc etc. I feel this has all gone a bit too far. Of course competences are important, even if it is only to be able to talk about human behaviour in organisations in a common language, but we should not exaggerate the situation. As far as I am concerned, results and performance are both just as important and they are determined not only by what someone is capable of (competence), but just as much by what inspires someone (motivation). Ultimately, success results from what someone does and that success is determined more by what drives and motivates a person as by what he/she is able to do. In fact, strong motivation and a little less competence will allow you to achieve more, when you compare that with a great deal of competence and rather less motivation. In other words, a strong motivation does the work of two; that is a statement and a conviction.

Ms Ham’s second question deals with my research method. She states that the semi-structured interview I use is less effective than the unstructured in-depth interview that she suggests. The advantage of my approach is, however, that I can compare the data from various interviews with each other. That demands a certain amount of standardisation. It could be that unstructured in-depth interviews produce more interesting and more revealing information but it is precisely the unstructured nature of the collected data that makes comparison very difficult. Such information is also difficult to base scientific conclusions on and that is, of course, the whole point of a thesis.

Ms Ham also queries the factors time and effort as reasons to choose an interview as a method of collecting data. Her idea was that if top-ranking managers have time to give an interview, they also have time for filling in a questionnaire or for another method. What she forgets, however, is that talking and reporting are the natural means of communication for most senior executives. In fact, they do almost nothing else; that is what they are good at, and they are then in control of the situation (or think they are). Therefore it is easy to fit an interview required for scientific research into the course of the day, and so it requires less effort. In contrast, completing a questionnaire for scientific research is unknown territory and it evokes question. What will be done with the answers? How will they be processed and dealt with? In this case more, rather than less, effort is required. It goes without saying that top-ranking managers in successful organisations are more often asked to take part in interviews (for the news media, personal interest, science or anything else) than those in less successful organisations. Successful companies are more in the public eye and consequently their managers as well. To me, it is quite plausible that they more often say 'no' to an interview request (because they receive so many) but this remains a hypothesis which I did not test during the research. In any case, Ms Ham does not agree, to which I therefore say: it is high time we tested this hypothesis.

The list of names of top-ranking managers that did not take part and the number of times they were asked to participate is not really relevant for this investigation; Ms Ham is right about that. However, one of the requirements of scientific research is that it should be completely reproducible. If someone wants to do that (even if it is just to refute my approach, hypotheses and conclusions), then he or she should be able to repeat the research in exactly the same way. That is why this less-than-relevant information was included; it was just necessary to document it, in case………

To conclude, a comment about money as a motive. Ms Ham is right in saying that I tend to believe top-ranking managers when they say they are not motivated by money. They are not really concerned about the money as such. In most cases, they earn so much money through their activities that they will not be able to use it up during their lifetime, so a little more or less is not going to make much difference. Money, as a means of paying the bills, is not a motivating factor, but money as a status symbol, on the other hand, is certainly so. The size of senior management salaries is not about their spending power but about their hierarchy. Money then becomes very important all of a sudden and this statement can be found in my thesis, in contrast to what Ms Ham would have us believe. Money is important as a status and power symbol and because power is the most important motivating factor for senior managers, the financial remuneration is also important. It is certainly important to keep this in mind now that the credit crisis and its causes have stimulated a discussion on salaries

Thank you for offering me the possibility of replying.

Ber Damen is a director at Berenschot.


Hilde Ham

Ber Damen’s response is enlightening in various ways. However, I would like to react to the point that, as far as top managers are concerned, giving an interview requires little effort.

Mr Damen believes this minimum of effort relates to the talking and telling that are a manager’s core activities, and the fact that an interview is 'easy to fit into the course of a day’. The fundamental role reversal between manager and interviewer (who may be a social scientist) can, I believe, turn out to require a great deal of effort. Furthermore, the degree of effort will depend on the capacities and competences of the interviewer. Even more important: once managers have agreed to an interview, it might be counterproductive to go along with and relate to their daily practice of talking and telling, simply because of the risk of habituation. In that case, the challenge would be rather to allow these managers to distance themselves from their daily routine and to let them consider, pause and reflect. I would expect top managers to be more likely to choose a questionnaire if they had already experienced a dyed-in-the-wool social scientist type of interviewer. A good interview is hard work!