What has the “Renewed Darwinian Theory” and “The Four Drive Theory” to do with leadership ?

12 06 2012

“The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts”.  Charles Darwin

Harvard Professor, Paul Lawrence has written the book: “Driven to Lead”. Through his book, Lawrence makes us aware of how to apply his four – drive theory of human behavior as well as how leaders behave.

Before explaining his drives, Lawrence has also digged into Darwin’s insights about humans. Through Darwin’s second epic book, “The Descent of Man”, Darwin observed that the difference between humans and lower species is our innate moral sense, our conscience.

Lawrence explains “The Renewed Darwinian (RD) Theory” : ” that this name acknowledges that its major elements are built upon insights of Darwin’s, drawn from his Descent of Man. The big question is how the leadership brain could have evolved by Darwinian mechanism.”

Leadership is of huge importance and can be practised in good or bad ways. The leadership brain has many aspects and need to be studied to gain understanding. Lawrence explain’s us his view and makes us aware of Darwin’s amazing and interesting theory.

What is leadership ? Lawrence: “It is a particular kind of decision-making – decisions a leader makes in guiding and motivating a group of people in responding to a particular set of circumstances. The circumstances may be immediate or they may be something the leader foresees in the future, but in either cases, there are choices to be made”.

“The measure of a man is what he does with power”.  Plato

The four drives illustrates which buttons to push. Lawrence:”It happens because our brains have evolved a way to let all four drives “have their say” and then to use our knowledge and experience to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to all four”.

How living things react in their environment is depending on their needs. Animals have their basic need for food and defending themselves, which means they have two basic needs. Included these two basic needs, human have two more, Lawrence:”It is because we have four drives – four buttons to be pushed – rather than two that we are so much more responsive to our environment”.

Many people are sceptical to leadership improvement, many studies has been done relating to this topic. Improvements in our material well-being brought about science, engineering and medicine still makes people sceptical. Lawrence however is positive to leadership improvement where his statement is; “yes, but the advancements are too easily reversed”. “But we have not been able to nail down our advancements in leadership so that they stay put”.

Lawrence gives us his comment on his view on bad leadership and that it is an inescapable part of the human condition; “my response is that once we understand what makes for good leadership, we can see that the potential for bad leadership is indeed part of the human condition, but not the necessity of enduring it”. He gives us a good example on the sickness of pneumonia which was a deadly illness, but because of science we understand it and know what to do about it. Lawrence;” I think we are now on the verge of understanding bad leadership and what to do about it”.

The four drives.

– “The drive to acquire what one needs for one’s survival at the conception and survival of one’s offspring”;

– “The drive to defend oneself and, as needed, one’s offspring from threats”.

– “The drive to bond; that is, to form long-term, mutually caring and trusting relationships with other people;

– “The drive to comprehend; that is, to learn, to create, to innovate, and make sense of the world and of oneself”.

These four drives are a good measure on how people choose to lead themselves and good leaders lead others. Lawrence; “This means that good leadership is rooted in the inherent workings of a very successful survival mechanism”. The writer emphasize that the drive to bond and comprehend makes all the difference between human and nonhuman. As species we were not the strongest or fastest, but could work together effectively under different circumstances than any other species, according to Darwin.

The drive to bond and comprehend used in the right direction gives positive signals.

The drive to acquire goes far beyond the drive to acquire food, water, warmth and a mate. Lawrence; “For example, we have a drive to acquire things which interest us or which give us a sense of who we are or which would please other people whom we care about – even in future generations”.

The drive to defend also goes far beyond the drive to remain alive and well. Among many areas, we have a drive to defend ideas, groups which we belong, our pride and hope and self – image as well as our physical well – being.

These four drives opens up for enormous possibilities. However we need to be aware that these four drives can conflict with each other. Lawrence: “Indeed, the observant among us have always known that humans are a mysterious bundle of drives which often conflict with each other inside our heads”.

According to Lawrence when talking of the evidence of the decision – making process, he makes us aware of the human behavior described with having an imaginary “as if” quality. “No one has ever been able to hold up an X-ray or an MRI scan and print to guilt, pride, patriotism, or a soul, but we often behave as if we had what is meant by those words”. The author point’s out research findings which indicates that the four drives and the decision – making process they set in motion are imaginary “as if” concepts; they are what is actually happening in the brain. Lawrence; ” This is why I think we are finally on the verge of putting leadership on a scientific basis, as we have already done with healing”. Our behavior is governed by a survival mechanism and is obscured by the fact that we have long been capable of so much more than survival. In that case, what survival drive could be responsible for playing tennis, eating ice cream, keeping a scrapbook and so on.

Did the brain evolve leadership capabilities ? Lawrence answer is a positive yes. “Every step of the evolutionary path we have been tracing involved a change in the human brain that has enhanced our capacity to adapt to contemporary changing environment”. First we mutated to enable our brains to grow larger, second we evolved an expanded memory where we could store our knowledge and experiences from our evolving cultures. Further on we evolved more sophisticated skill sets. Then we developed new drives in our limbic systems – to bond and comprehend. “How all this development happened we don’t know, just that it did. What we know is that all of this enhanced our capacity to adapt to changes in our circumstances which is to say, our capacity for leadership”.

Let us have a closer look of the process in the brain according to the four drives. Lawrence explains the drive to acquire: “Humans, in common with all animals, have a fundamental drive to get what they need to stay alive and have progeny: food, water, warmth, sex, and so on”. This basic drive lies behind work to make a living and is the easiest drive to understand. ” Put another way, bees have evolved to make honey together but humans have evolved to “make do” together. Making honey together can be done by instinct; “making do” together requires leadership”.

The drive to acquire and the drive to defend are both located in the limbic area. What happens with people and animals when experience pleasurable sensations from objects they acquire, this part of the brain lights up with increased blood flow. The drive to bond : “Without this fundamental human behavior, there could be no such thing as companies or any other kinds of organization”. Lawrence makes us aware that the drive to bond forces us to address an important characteristic of the four drives: they are independent. The drives can however assist each other. ” A drive cannot be satisfied by the satisfaction of one or even all three, of the other drives”. It determines how the brain’s decision – making process finally decides and is therefore a key to good leadership. The four drives seem to have their own biochemical reward systems in the brain. The drive to bond has also its own biochemical reward system. The drive to comprehend is needed to understand environment and ourselves including to know how things work. Lawrence; “The drive to comprehend is often in the service of the drive to bond because cooperating – or just getting along – with others can be quite complicated”. In leadership the drive to comprehend is of huge importance and in a group and how to lead it the leader must impart or maintain shared understanding.

As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become partially developed, man would naturally crave to understand what was passing around him, and could have vaguely speculated on his own existence”  Charles Darwin.

Emotions and it’s role in leadership is worth mentioning, Lawrence: “The emotions seem to be the way our four unconscious drives – that is, basic components of our well – established survival mechanism – do their lobbying”. Depending on circumstances the four drives each evaluate, “according to their own criteria”, whether the situation is threatening or gives opportunities.

When moving on to morality and leadership, Lawrence quote Darwin: “I fully subscribe to the judgement of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense of conscience is by far the most important”.


University of Michigan has done research on “positive psychology”, where they look at good leadership from a different direction. They found abundant empirical evidence that showed when positive factors ( such as; friendship, pride, safety, or appreciation ) people are more inclined to engage in positive change like innovation or teamwork. When given negative factors such as ( disapproval, insecurity, or disappointment ) they are less engaged. Lawrence; “Our four-drive model of the brain tells us that what is universally “positive” for human beings is the balanced satisfying of our four innate drives”.

If people in leadership positions at all levels can see what they are doing and have learned in these four-drive and impulse/check/balance terms, improvement in leadership can be enjoyable.

Leaders without conscience exist all over the world and need a closer look. In Renewed Darwinian Theory terms, it looks that we are gradually evolving from a world of misguided, bad, or downright evil leaders toward a world of good/moral leaders-“good/moral” in the technical RD Theory sense and that they try to address all the four drives for all citizens. Leaders without conscience do not hesitate to manipulate and exploit the drives of the majority in order to gratify their own insatiable drives to acquire wealth and power. Lawrence;”In a way, then, the biologists were right: under certain social or technical conditions, people w/o-conscience can indeed out-compete ordinary four-drive people. Extinction, however, is not an option. The tyrant who kills all his subjects must go back to picking berries and throwing rocks at squirrels”.

Machiavelli wrote his treatise, The Prince, which was dedicated to Florence’s new head of state, Lorenzo de Medici, where he offered him practical advise on how to achieve his goals. This happened after his mentor, Piero Soderini was ousted from power by the return of the Medici in 1512, Machiavelli was tortured, imprisoned and forced into retirement. Lawrence; “Machiavelli took it for granted that “great man” were ruled by an insatiable desire for material gain and driven by the principle of self-interest. In RD Theory terms, Machiavelli assumed that ambitious leaders were leaders-w/o-conscience”.

Lincoln was a man with good and moral leadership qualities. He used all the four drives in an amazing and balanced way. Lawrence;” Humans will probably always need the help of especially gifted moral leaders in order to extend the bonds of caring and trust beyond the easy range of the family and the face-to-face community. Such bonds have become essential to the future of humanity. Lincoln has shown us the way”.

People w/o-conscience working his or her way towards a top leadership position of a major corporation can change its entire business culture. In such a case, employees at lower levels have no choice but to go along with their leader’s tactics or quit their jobs. In situations like this, a four-drive leader of a competitive firm is put on the defensive and is pressed to imitate the leader w/o-conscience. Lawrence;” Top-level executives who are people w/o-conscience can exercise power on a scale that is far beyond face-to-face social controls. For now, the nightmare can end only when normal people catch on it and, armed with this knowledge, find humane ways to keep people w/o-conscience out of positions of power”.

Darwin has made us aware and cautioned us that we still have to cross the hurdles of distance and difference for people around the globe to recognize that we are all the same type of creatures, and we all have the same four drives to keep us moving together, wholeheartedly and whole-mindedly, on a sustainable track forward.

I fully subscribe to those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense of conscience is by far the most important.   Charles Darwin Quoted from Lawrence book; Driven to lead.

Let us remind ourselves of the importance of the people in organizations and try to lead with conscience.

Written by Inger Lise E Greger/Master of Science in Change Management

https://inger-lise.net/page/2/


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