Leadership and the Hierarchy of Motivation

Leaders must respond to lagging performance and complaints, sometimes daily. Following these three simple rules can make you more effective as a leader:
  1. All stress has at its core an unmet need.  
  2. If you want to optimize a person’s performance, you must somehow fulfill their unmet needs. 
  3. The most powerful questions you can ask someone are: How can I help? What can I do? (i.e. What do you need?)

Most people learn about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs at some point in school or training, typically in a high school or college “Psychology 101” course. Most people study it, pass the test, forget about it, and perhaps never apply it.  I have found it to be a highly practical tool for any leader to apply on a daily basis.  When people complain, it is because a need is not being met. When people under-perform, at least a contributing factor is that a need is not being met.  When someone “goes postal” (I beg pardon from all my highly respected U.S. Postal Service workers), it is because a need is not being met.

In truth, you cannot motivate another person. You can provide an environment wherein an individual can become motivated. As a leader, it is your responsibility to both seek out and create such an environment. A manager’s job is to create the conditions (and to develop goals, plans, and procedures) in which all people have the potential for attaining satisfaction at every level of need.

A need is a gap or discrepancy between what the individual has and what he or she desires. The individual is driven or motivated to reduce or eliminate the discrepancy. If there is no discrepancy, there is no motivation.

Fear can be highly motivating, but not in conjunction with positive results for any length of time. Instead, people become stressed, callous, and develop a “thick-skinned” attitude resulting in defensiveness and loss of production. Anyone can learn to live with fear.

Rewards and incentives can be motivating, but not for sustained motivation. When a need is satisfied, it is no longer a motivator – “this year’s bonus will become next year’s entitlement.”

Striving, achieving, and accomplishing are needs in and of themselves. Goal setting and action planning provide both the means and the end results for our needs to strive and accomplish; they push us toward satisfying our needs and moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy.

The Hierarchy of Needs isn’t just for the confines of Psychology 101 class.  Maslow’s principles can simplify some of the most common complaints leaders hear from people.

Hierarchy of Needs at Work
Level 1 Physiological Well-Being: “I need a break for lunch.” You can help by:

  • Generally, make sure these needs are not a distraction.  Give ’em a break, boss!
Level 2 Safety, Security: “I need to know my job is secure.” You can help by:
  • Making sure individual capabilities match job demands
  • Determining that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them
  • Providing continuous, timely, constructive feedback
  • Equating job security to performance
  • Installing a fair and equitable compensation program based upon performance

Level 3 Social Acceptance, Belonging: “I need to feel ‘part of the gang’, asked for ideas.” You can help by:

  • Involving people in goal setting and planning, seeking their input and ideas as well as their commitment
  • Involving people in brainstorming an decision making
  • Involving people in their performance reviews and in frequent goal progress reviews
  • Involving people in teams and team development activities
Level 4 Self-Esteem, Recognition: “I need to know I’m doing a good job.” You can help by:

  • Implementing a recognition-based program that regularly recognizes those people who have done an exceptional job or achieved a goal
  • Treating everyone with dignity and respect
  • Making sure that everyone knows how their work contributes to the vision and values of the organization
  • Seeking ideas and opinions, and giving credit to the source when they are implemented
  • Transferring ownership for work to those who execute the work
  • Assigning projects based on interests, skills, past performance and stretch goals
Level 5 Self-Actualization, Fulfillment: “I need more challenges and the opportunity to grow.” You can help by:

  • Help people to realize their personal development goals
  • Provide opportunities for formal education, training and development
  • Provide opportunities for internal growth and advancement whenever possible
  • Exhibit a genuine interest in matching talents with opportunities
  • Meet with people regularly to determine how well they are doing and what they would like to do
  • Exercise value-based leadership with support, honesty and open communications, questions, and good listening
As a leader, are you recognizing your people’s needs?
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About pdncoach

A Go-Giver business coach working with leaders whose success depends on the performance and productivity of others. I coach individual leaders and their teams... in small to mid-size businesses, ministries and non-profits... to accelerate their results and achieve dreams by getting past the difficult, strategic challenges of their current realities.
This entry was posted in Abraham Maslow, Hierarchy of Needs, leadership, motivation, questions. Bookmark the permalink.

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