The Personality Profile That Makes Leaders Make War Reply

Leaders with a high need for personal power, like Putin, go to war more often

by Ian H. Robertson, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

World leaders who make war tend to have a particular personality profile called “high need for power”. American presidents who show this are, throughout history, more likely to take their countries into war than those who don’t. Dwight Eisenhower didn’t show it for instance, while George W Bush did.

“Need for power” was identified by the great psychologist David McLelland as one of three basic, largely unconscious drives, which motivate people to different degrees. The need for power – the others are the needs for affiliation and achievement – is where you are motivated to dominate and control what other people want, need or fear.

In simulations of the Cuban missile crisis where nuclear holocaust between Russia and USA was narrowly averted, people who are high in the need for power acting the role of war room decision makers tend to take actions which would, in 1962, have resulted in nuclear war.

All leaders need to have a certain appetite for power – leadership is too stressful otherwise, and power’s effects on the brain’s act as a sort of anti-depressant. But like all addictive drugs, too much for too long causes dangerous changes in the brain, which include reckless disinhibition, risk-blindness and difficulty in seeing things from other’s perspective: ex UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen has described this as the “Hubris Syndrome” which he diagnosed leaders Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and George W Bush, among others, as showing.

Few if any leaders can survive more than ten years of power without being tipped into this dangerous state of altered personality and increased desire for even more power. Most democracies have devised constraints – limited terms of office for instance – to counteract such dangerous changes to the brain. Even the Republic of China changes its leadership every ten years.

It is the neurologically-created conceit of many powerful leaders that – in the words of Louis XV of France –  “après moi le déluge” (after me, the flood). Power fosters the delusion of indispensability and many political leaders have created havoc in fighting to stay in post because they genuinely believe their abilities are crucial for the survival of their country and that no-one else can do it.

President Vladimir Putin has held power in Russia as President or Prime Minister for approaching 15 years – too long for any man or woman’s brain to endure without dangerous changes which foster recklessness and a blindness to other perspectives. Saturday’s military incursion into Ukraine may be a particularly worrying symptom of this leader’s affliction.


David McClelland’s Theory on Motivation 1

By Chris Simmons

David C. McClelland and his Harvard associates theorized that human motivation is dominated by three distinct needs: Power (i.e., control, influence, authority); Affiliation (i.e., belonging or relationships); and Achievement (i.e., task accomplishment). Like any other human need, the balance between the three motivational drivers varies by individual. That said, a person’s inspiration and effectiveness is maximized by providing him/her with opportunities that provide the perfect blend of their needs.

For example, an individual motivated by affiliation does NOT want to stand out from the group. As such, to be singled out for public praise runs counter to their primary motivator. Such praise would not be well received and could, in fact, be embarrassing or uncomfortable. Instead, to thank him/her in private is far more effective and appreciated.

Characteristics or Indicators

• Seeks leadership positions.
• Tends to collect status/prestige items.
• Often forceful, outspoken, and demanding
• Generally wins arguments.
• Displays a strong need to influence, teach or manage others.

• Enjoys collaboration and group work.
• Avoids conflict; trends towards “peace-keeper” roles.
• Tends to join organizations.
• Seeks and sustains friendships.
• Does well as a mediator or in jobs devoted to serving others.
• Prefers social or attitudinal feedback.
• Seeks acceptance.

• Takes personal responsibility.
• Values feedback, especially when timely and qualitative.
• Calculating risk-taker.
• Sets high self-standards.
• Prefers solitary/individual work.
• Focused on better performance.
• Seeks challenging opportunities.

Note: McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory is also known as Three Needs Theory, Acquired Needs Theory, Motivational Needs Theory, and the Learned Needs Theory.

How to Instantly Recognize Whether Someone Feels Powerful or Weak 1

By Chris Simmons

Have you ever noticed how much space people take up when they feel powerful? Everything becomes BIGGER. They talk with their hands outstretched. Their feet are planted firmly on the ground; spread 12-24 inches apart. If sitting, they are likely leaning forward on the edge of their chair or couch. When speaking, their speed and volume tends to increase. All these indicators come together to create an impression of energy and power.

Conversely, when feeling less confident, weak, or vulnerable, one’s body language becomes defensive and draws in close to our body. If gesturing, the hands remain close together and generally within 12 inches of the body. Arms and/or legs may be crossed. Eye contact decreases sharply. If seated, the person draws back into their seat. In fact, the only behavior which may remain steady or increase is vocal speed and volume, and that is wholly dependant on the emotional commitment at the moment.