“The Winner Effect” Part 3

What are our underlying motives?

This is a question we sometimes cannot answer for ourselves, so various tests have been devised to uncover them.

One such motive is the need for power.

This is the motivation to have an impact on people. Giving orders, making decisions, being in control are known as action-oriented motives.  These actions may also include the giving of advice, gifts, directions etc.  It’s about wanting to have an effect on people.  Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly) “… having an impact involves having a particularly strong concern with your own reputation.”(P.122)

Remember cortisol, the hormone of stress?

When an individual with a high need for power loses, their cortisol level surges. When they win, it drops. No surprises there!

When an individual with a low power need loses, their cortisol level shows a smaller increase. (Losing is less stressful for them.)  No surprises there either, but wait there’s more! When they win, their cortisol level rises too.  For an individual with a low power need WINNING is stressful!

“Some people have the ‘killer instinct’ – that motivation to drive home an advantage and win the game. Others inexplicably find themselves wilting on the cusp of victory and letting their opponent defeat them. The sporting killer instinct may reflect the need for power, and the prospect of dominating another may trigger in someone with low power needs an unconscious aversion to finishing off their opponent and winning the match.” (P. 126)

A person’s need for power is a pretty important factor in shaping how they conduct themselves, yet it is not uppermost in our minds as we think about others. We are more likely to consider classic personality features such as whether someone is introverted or extraverted, anxious or emotionally stable, but we don’t think about a factor which can have a much bigger effect on our lives – a person’s need for power.” (P. 127)

These needs are played out in our lives on a daily basis. They occur within the home, workplace, on the street, in the neighbourhood, at school, as well as within politics.

“One of the biggest dangers for the world comes from that surge of testosterone coursing into the blood of the high-power-need leader after he wins. That hormonal surge is intoxicating. Like the mountaineer seeking the fix of the next and more dangerous peak, the power-primed politician finds it hard to cope with the mundanity of day-to-day politics – he yearns for the chemical high that winning triggers in him. Unfortunately, like all such highs, the next stimulus has to be stronger to get the same effect.” (P. 128)

High power-need leaders tend to gather ‘yes-men’ around them and bypass counter balancing influences. Lower power-need leaders are more likely to delegate, discuss and consult with others.

Like all addictions, power only becomes an addiction when it is no longer regulated and larger and larger quantities are consumed. “It is only when the raw liquor of power hits the blood of someone with a high need for it, that the really big problems arise.” (P. 132)

“An effective leader …needs a minimum level of need for power, otherwise the responsibilities of power will be too stressful. Hence, if low-power-need managers are promoted to boss, the stress they feel may flood their brains with cortisol, which can, as we will see…hinder good judgement.” (P. 133)


What does this mean for you within your life?

Does control present problems? Do you enjoy it too much or too little?

How does this show in your behaviour and its effects on others – people and animals?


Further reading

The Winner Effect  by Ian H. Robertson