The desire to achieve is a major source of strength in business, and it is on the rise.

There’s a dark side to the trend, however. By relentlessly focusing on tasks and goals, an executive or company can damage performance. Overachievers tend to command and coerce, stifling subordinates.

Psychologist David McClelland identified three drivers of behavior: achievement, meeting a standard of excellence; affiliation, maintaining close relationships; and power, having an impact on others. He said the power motive comes in two forms: personalized, in which the leader draws strength from controlling people, and socialized, where the leader derives strength from empowering people.

Studies show that great charismatic leaders are highly motivated by socialized power. To look at how motives and leadership style affect a group’s work climate and performance, the authors studied 21 senior managers at IBM.

The leaders who created high-performing and energizing climates got more lasting results by using a broad range of styles, choosing different ones for different circumstances. Rather than order people around, they provided vision, sought buy-in and commitment, and coached.

Read the article in Harvard Business Review, June 2006.