Leadership Development – What Do Workers Need? Self-Actualization

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by Bob Mason
(Albuquerque, US)

When Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs, he placed the need for self-actualization at the top. Self-actualization is the need to reach an individual’s full potential; as the U.S. Army used to say, to “Be all you can be.” Maslow felt that this was the highest need humans possessed and he noted that many people never reach this level. That’s why it’s vitally important to understand and recognize this pinnacle of the human needs.

John was a quiet associate. His managers really liked him because he could tell a customer where any item was in the store. When a recent store-wide reset was completed, he seemed to instinctively know all the new locations, even more amazing considering the store had a large inventory of small products. Unfortunately, John’s managers saw his quiet demeanor as a lack of motivation, completely missing his need to be self-actualized. When opportunities to move to new positions within the store arose, he was usually not seriously considered. John works for another company now, lured away by the prospect of continuously learning new parts of the business.

When an employee feels his or her survival and safety needs are met, and they feel a genuine sense of belonging, they move to a need for self-esteem. The need to reach a higher level of self-esteem that results from personal development is not far removed from the need to be self-actualized. These people will actively seek out opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. They want to be successful and they define success as the ability to constantly learn and improve.

Since not all people ever reach this level, it is essential that managers recognize those who do. There are several things to look for. A self-actualized person will seek out opportunities and strive to learn new things. They’ll often display knowledge about a wide variety of subjects. Be careful though. Their personality traits may or may not be what you expect. As with John in the example, the person may be quietly confident, but they may also be very outgoing and even boisterous. You can’t always judge this book by its cover. Rather, the leader should look a little deeper to see what the person is striving for.

A manager who discovers a self-actualized employee should consider herself very fortunate. These people don’t come along every day and must be handled with care. The employee who has reached this level of human need can be worth their weight in gold. They usually don’t require a lot of supervision and can often help train others. They’re motivated by this need for personal challenge and success and the inability to achieve that will create serious conflict that is usually resolved by seeking a new opportunity.

Look around at your employees. Identify at what level of human need they seem to be. What are you doing to help them satisfy that need?


Bob Mason is a speaker, trainer, and author of “Planning to Excel: Strategic Planning That Works.” After 30 years of leadership experience he founded RLM Planning and Leadership to transform leadership by developing great leaders. Bob works with organizations that want to excel by training managers to lead and creating great strategic plans to keep leaders focused. See what he can do for you at http://www.planleadexcel.com.

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