Leadership with Maslow

People need meaningful work, even if it is tiring and unpleasant; they need to know that it is important and necessary for the survival of the organization.  As a leader, we must keep in mind that our team members must perceive their own competence.  Many people go through life obscuring their intrinsic nature, unaware of their “true calling”, their ”passions.”  Some have abandoned early dreams to deal with life’s realities.   They had to conform to society, family, the corporate world and other circles, each of which dictates its code of conduct: they are told how to think, feel, eat, speak, behave and dress.   Their true selves disappear, getting buried in the debris of life.

Our team’s passions can only be re-ignited by bringing out into the light people’s intrinsic nature, gifts and secret desires.  However deep and complex human nature is, all humans share basic needs that must be addressed, ranging from shelter to more sophisticated drives.  In his hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow shows us the gradual escalation of workers’ drives and motivations in his famous pyramid.

Once basic needs are satisfied, people want more.  Progress is the essence of human nature.   When people’s basic needs are addressed, their mind and soul, free of threat and insecurity, open up to some of their innermost drives. People are often confused between “superficial wants” and “inner drives.” Some individuals are in pursuit of material luxury, while others pursue their thirst for knowledge, artistic expression, a need to lead or help others, play the hero or shine in society.

Now, consider a comparison of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with your progress as a leader.  The team cannot be expected to behave in a way that is more advanced than the leader’s ability to lead.  Assume the leader is unable to advance beyond Level 1 Leadership traits – the influence that comes with the title alone (“…I’m the boss, so you must do as I say…”). Then why would any rational person expect the team to function at any level beyond the very bottom of the pyramid where the focus is on daily physiological needs (“…I work for you because I need a roof over my head and to feed my children, I’ll remain here till a better opportunity comes along…”).

As we understand these basic intrinsic drivers of behavior, we begin to understand the concept of leading others as we build a team. We do not lead by simply communicating information. We lead when we share a vision that is so clear that it’s easy for the team to believe in us and take action to follow.