March: Journey of Growth

Humans are biologically driven by four emotion-based drives

Growing into our ME to WE potential takes being centered and balanced rather than “owned” by our emotion-based motivational drives. Paul Lawrence spent his career with Harvard Business School. He was 87 years old when I met him, and he was clearly a man on a mission. Paul was deeply concerned when a theory of rational self-interest took root in Harvard Business School. Rather than trying to fight it, he decided to do the research to present a more complete theory of human behavior. He drew from Darwin and research over the past century including neuroscience discoveries that have debunked theories of rational self-interest. Paul Lawrence passed away in 2011 at the age of 89. But his legacy and impact live on. I hope that you, like myself, have a whole new world of human understanding opened to you as you as you explore your emotions, decisions, and behavior through the lens of the four-drive theory of human nature [1].

A diagram of the four emotion-based drives: bond, create, defend, achieve.

Healthy Tension of Four Drives

Humans have four biological drives that operate independently of each other. All four ensure our survival and need to be satisfied for a good life. There is no such thing as a purely rational decision. Instead, the emotions that underpin the four emotion-based drives "charge" so-to-speak every decision we make. It is normal and healthy to experience the tug and pull of the four-drives in day-to-day situations. For example, let’s say you are deciding whether to accept a new role within the company. You notice that part of you is drawn to the prestige of a higher-level role and contribution (drive to achieve). Part of you is sad to leave your existing team and wonder if the new team will be as good (drive to bond). Part of you can’t wait to tackle a new challenge (drive to learn/create). Part of you is nervous about your ability to balance greater work commitments with the needs of your family (drive to defend/protect). This is a healthy tension. You make better decisions when your four drives are in a healthy balance.

Strive to be Centered and Balanced

It is easy to get out-of-balance and even stuck in the emotional energy of one of the drives. The goal is to grow in self-awareness and the ability to center and be balanced. Learn to recognize when you are hijacked by any of the four drives and take active steps to get centered before making important decisions. It is very normal to be a bit lop sided where one of the four drives emerges as our “go to” drive. What is that for you? As you read the descriptions for each drive, think about which drive(s) feels more “at home” for you and which ones are activated less frequently.

  • The drive to bond. The drive to bond is our “relationship” drive. We are social creatures driven to love, care, belong, cooperate, and enjoy lifelong friendships. The drive to bond emotions include caring, cooperation, gratitude, empathy, and generosity.
  • The drive to create. The drive to create is our “learning and creativity” drive. We are driven to understand the world we live in. We have the ability to imagine a better way and then create this better way. Drive to create/learn emotions include wonder, awe, curiosity, joyfulness, and amazement.
  • The drive to achieve. The drive to achieve is our “goal pursuit” drive such as winning at a sports game, achieving work goals, being a good parent, living a healthy lifestyle. The emotions associated with our drive to achieve are competitiveness, determination, ambition, and pride.
  • The drive to defend. The drive to defend is our “protect” drive. We defend and protect ourselves, loved ones, friends, colleagues, team members, property, our reputation, and almost anything we call “mine.” The emotions associated with our drive to defend are fear, cautiousness, diligence, protectiveness, and possessiveness.

Question for You

To what degree are you centered and balanced? Are there certain drives that are your “go-to” drives? Are there drives you would like to strengthen?

Enjoy the journey of ME to WE growth!

Mary Beth McEuen

[1] Lawrence, Paul R. (2010). Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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