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Motivation and Leadership


Process and Content Theories

Motivation theories fall under one of two categories; namely, Process Theories and Content Theories. While in process theories, behaviors are seen as a result, in content theories, researchers examine psychological elements that manifest as behaviors (Porter, Bigley, & Steers 2003 p. 12). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs holds that motivation is founded upon the notion that every individual has certain motives/needs needing to be satisfied. According to Maslow’s theory, those motives that have been satisfied cease to act as motivating forces in people (Porter, Bigley, & Steers 2003, p. 5). Maslow’s basic needs are classified into two groups. The first group, deficiency needs, are composed of psychological, security, safety, and belonging needs. The second group, growth needs, focus on self-actualization (See Fig. 1). In formulating his hierarchy of needs, Maslow asserts that higher level needs cannot be satisfied without satisfying those needs on the level just below. Maslow’s theory represents a milestone in motivating individuals in the work place (Porter, Begley, & Steers 2003, p. 5).


Fig.1: Maslow’s Motivational Model

Built on Maslow’s approach, ERG theory summarizes basic needs under three general categories (i.e., Existence, Relatedness, and Growth). The theory’s most significant contribution to Maslow’s hierarchy is the frustration-regression process. Whereas Maslow asserted there to be a positive correlation between unsatisfied motives and progress, Alderfer suggested that the frustration created by unsatisfied motives led to regression (Porter, Begley, & Steers 2003, p. 8).

McClelland’s Learned Needs Theory states that the needs sought to be satisfied by an individual are a manifestation of what that person experienced, both socially and culturally, during his early childhood. Those needs thought to be learned are the need for achievement (n Ach), for power (n Pow), for affiliation (n Aff), and for autonomy (n Aut).

The Expectancy Theory of Motivation mostly studies those factors that influence motivation. According to this theory, performance is a result of motivation. Performance cannot be observed without the existence of motivation. Even when employees have the desire to perform, performance does not take place in the absence of any one of the following factors: Ability, Role Clarity, Role Acceptance, and Opportunity to Perform (Head, 2007, pp. 101-105). In essence, motivation is necessary to perform a task. Expectancy Theory uses the formula M= (E > P) P > O)V to understand and assess motivation. According to this formula, motivation stems from three conscious choices (Head, 2007, pp. 101-105). However, since usual behavior patterns and subconscious motives tend to be ignored, this theory receives criticism (Porter, Bigley, & Steers 2003, p. 15).

 Using Process and Content Theories in Unison

Of the above mentioned theories, only Expectancy Theory is considered a process theory. The other three theories are content theories. Expectancy Theory’s formula is based on a person’s own subjective evaluation of himself and depends on how he perceives himself. Since Expectancy Theory treats behaviors as a result, it is not concerned with the causes that provoke a certain behavior. Content theories, on the other hand, not only study the fundamental needs and one’s past experiences that affect motivation on the conceptional level, they also research the causes behind them. It will be easier to apply process theories in those organizations that perceive employees as entities belonging to the company. The ability to make use of process theories in a healthier manner depends on the quality of the organization in which it is to be applied.

In general, motivation theories may be criticized for attempting to take a very complicated phenomenon and reducing it to a very simple matter. However, appropriate theories have been developed for different phenomena and expectations. Though they appear to be two different approaches, process and content theories may be used together. The important thing is to have the ability to choose and develop the appropriate formula for the situation in question. In doing this, it is essential that one take advantage of the differences and be able to adapt (both himself and the formula) to the specific situation at hand.

 Concept of Motivation

The greatest obstacle to uniting process and content theories is the concept of motivation. While content theories tend to consider motivation as an intrinsic source, process theories treat motivation as a variable in a formula. Ignoring unconscious choices and reducing basic human needs to profits and benefits eventually causes us to lose our relationship with human nature. In terms of the work place, its greatest asset is people. For this reason, when we speak about motivation in the work environment, we cannot see people simply as machines. Formulas are inadequate in grasping human nature. The variability of possibilities, variety of choices, and incalculable expectations and needs all create a universe extremely difficult to describe. Whether in the work place or in any other organization, we are, in the end, people, relations, and interactions.

Leadership Models and their Interaction with Theories

Built off of the Transactional Leadership Model, the Full Range Leadership Model is an approach that combines both Transformational and Transactional Leadership Models. Although these two approaches have their differences, they work to complete each other. A successful leadership approach is thought to treat these two models in combination. Transactional Leadership aims to establish a foundation and then perpetuate it. Transformational Leadership, however, is idealist in nature. A healthy transition and a reality oriented process of change can only be realized by combining these two models. Leaders must adapt quickly to the ever-changing conditions around them while also directing the change. Another leadership model, though rarely mentioned, is the Authentic Leadership Model, whose distinguishing feature is in its being an approach that combines trust and ethics.

When we encounter a new organization, the first thing we must do is to comprehend it in the most accurate and unbiased way possible. By analyzing the rationale behind Expectancy Theory in particular we are able to understand, or in other words, to take a photograph of what is. On the other hand, by combining Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with the frustration – regression process addressed in ERG Theory, it becomes much easier to understand the sources of and reasons behind people’s motives. Examining and improving on Expectancy Theory, Nadler and Lawler offer a number of conclusions and recommendations for managers and organizations. They state that while organizations focus on designing and preparing environments that increase motivation (e.g., analyses, evaluations), managers focus on understanding and knowing employees in order to develop an environment in which the desired results may be attained. At this stage, the concepts of determination (commitment), assessment (analysis), and identity (self-actualization and belonging) come into prominence. Here, in order to provide a truly comprehensive approach, both Self-perception and Attribution theories must be added.

In order to diagnose the situation, we need to ask further questions, have more one-on-one interviews, and better understand those with whom we encounter in our daily lives. One person’s reaction to the same situation can manifest itself in completely contrasting ways at different times. We may find ourselves in a number of unexpected situations within our daily lives, and as long as we find ourselves in interactions with other people, our attitudes and approaches will continue to change. In order to understand motivation and leadership, we must therefore follow a multidisciplinary approach. Although empathy skills and trustworthiness are essential factors in being a good leader, in order to move forward, a leader must be able to construct a notion of the future, must have an ideal, and must be able to attract people to follow his calling. Due to its success in blending the qualities of both Transformational and Transactional Leadership, Authentic Leadership is able to prevent a number of possible problems by discerning them before they reveal themselves. In following a leader with these qualities, motivation is to be an element that improves on its own. And this is only natural.


Head, T. C. (2007).  Early motivation theories: From phrenology to Freud and beyond.  In Organizational behavior and change (ss. 60-70).  Champaign: Stipes.

Head, T. C. (2007).  Expectancy theory and employee motivation: A conglomeration.  In Organizational behavior and change (ss. 101-108).  Champaign: Stipes.

Leavitt, Harold J., Pondy, Louis R., and Boje, David M. (Eds), Readings in Managerial Psychology (ss.3-19) Chicago: University of Chicago.

Kerr, S. (1995). An academy classic on the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Academy of Management Executive, 9(1), 7-14.

Nadler, David A., and Lawler III, Edward E., (1989) Motivation: A diagnostic approach.

Porter, L. W., Bigley, G. A., & Steers, R. M. (2003). Motivation in organizations. Motivation and work behavior (6th ed.) (ss. 1-39). Boston: McGraw Hill.

Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2012). Essentials of Organizational Behavior (ss. 150-169).  Saddle River: Pearson Education.