The element of Achievement Motivation for Entrepreneurs

Harvard psychologist David McClelland developed the Achievement Motivation Theory which he comprehensively defined in his book entitled ‘The Achieving Society’ published  in 1967. McClelland sought to explain why some societies are more economically successful than others. For answers, he looks at the entrepreneurial behaviors of individuals, which he thought were key to the development of all economies.

According to McClelland, entrepreneurs do things in a new and better way and make decisions under uncertainty. Entrepreneurs are characterized by a need for achievement or an achievement orientation, which is a drive to excel, advance, and grow. By focusing in on a particular need, he was able to challenge the then prevailing great man theory of entrepreneurship as well as religious theories of entrepreneurship. He believed that entrepreneurship is learned and that such learning can be encouraged fruitfully.[1]

The theory of achievement motivation is a miniature system applied to a specific context, the domain of achievement-oriented activities, which is characterized by the fact that the individual is responsible for the outcome (success or failure), he anticipates unambiguous knowledge of results, and there is some degree of uncertainty or risk (McClelland, 1961). Yet it is the belief that the type of theory that views the strength of an individual’s goal-directed tendency as jointly determined by his motives, by his expectations about the consequences of his actions, and by the incentive values of expected consequences will have wider utility when these concepts are applied toward other goals. (Atkinson & Feather, 1966, p. 5)

Achievement motivation can, therefore, be defined as the striving to increase or to keep as high as possible, one’s own capabilities in all activities in which a standard of excellence is thought to apply and where the execution of such activities can, therefore either succeed or fail. (Heckhausen, 1967, p. 4-5). To conclude it could be emphatically stated that achievement motivation plays an significant role in success of the entrepreneurs. It is therefore recommended that this yardstick should be applied in Indian context also.


  • McClelland, David C., The Achieving Society (1961). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:
  • Atkinson, J., & Feather, N. (1966). A theory of achievement motivation. New York, NY: Wiley and Sons.
  • Heckhausen, H., Butler, K. F., Birney, R. C., & McClelland, D. C. (1967). The anatomy of achievement motivation. New York: Academic Press.


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