The myth of the disposition: Motivation and personality in management

Robert Spillane*, John Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Readers of management books frequently find themselves among experts who claim to know about motivational and personality dispositions. However, they find it impossible to agree on the most basic of details. This paper argues that dispositions are myths derived from an inadequate grasp of their dubious logical and linguistic status. Concepts such as need, motive and trait are logically deficient because of the inherent problem of circularity and linguistically inadequate because of the vagueness of definition that applies to all dispositional theories. Two leading representatives of the motivational dispositional perspective in management [David McClelland and Abraham Maslow] serve as the basis for case studies in which the notions of need and motive are shown to be problematic. Personality traits are also analysed critically and reveal similar deficiencies. An analysis of the authoritarian personality serves as a third case study and reveals an important negative relationship between personality and intelligence. It is argued that personality reflects deficiencies rather than dispositions and an alternative view is offered which treats individuals as pattern perceivers and rational choosers of goals. Such a view, however, works against dispositionalism's scientism, which has found much favour with managers and their consultants for the past fifty years. Why this should be the case is briefly explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-52
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Management and Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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