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Power, Pay or Position - An abridged version Maslow Hierarchy of Needs or How Career Choices Are Made

Anyone who’s been to the a lecture on organisational behaviour (and many who haven’t) has heard and seen the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. It has been a cornerstone of understanding human behaviour in and out of the workplace.


Many people, when considering their career path look at a distilled (if not brutal) version: Which of the 3 P’s am I after?

Is it Power? Position? Pay?


Let me elaborate:

  • Power - Do you get your kick from being the one calling the shots, regardless of your job title? Are giving instructions and making decisions the things that gets you out of bed in the morning? If the answer is Yes (and there are other ways to ask yourself this question) than power is what you are after and you will pursue jobs that will guarantee your being in control.

  • Position - Are you after title? Most people who are won’t admit it. For some reason it is OK to want to make money but it sounds shallow to be motivated by the plate on your office door. If what you want is to have a C title than this is what you will go after. You can compromise on pay and power as none will give you the satisfaction of seeing “Jane Smith CxO” on your (corner) office door.

  • Pay - This is as straightforward as it sounds. Is money what’s driving you or is money something that you obviously want to have but there are other elements that are more important? The easiest way to figure this one out is to ask yourself: if you had 2 job offers that offer the same level of power and a higher job title/lower pay or higher pay/lower job title, which one will you take? Now ask yourself the same question with Power instead of Position. If the answer for both was money than you obviously driven by it and no job title nor power to make decisions will give you the same level of satisfaction.


Some will argue that this is a very simplistic way of looking at things but with many years of managerial experience I can safely say it has a crucial influence on how people manage their career. I did for most of it (mine was Position).

There will be decision-points when you will be faced with such dilemmas - do I take the promotion offered me by my current company (with very little or no additional income) or do I give in to wanting to keep up with the Jones's and jump ship to the competitor offering me more money? If you are after Pay then obviously you will move. But if you are after Position then, as many studies have shown the effect of the additional income will be short-lived and very soon you’ll feel empty again.


What too many miss is what eventually makes the difference between being happy and miserable at work - the orgnisational culture. Unfortunately this is something that is not easy to detect but landing in an organisation with toxic culture (or simply one that doesn't suit you) can be soul-destroying, so it's worth the effort to try and find out before accepting an offer. There is only so much a brass plate with your name on it, a nice paycheck or the power to command others can motivate you.


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