Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy of Needs is not just about stacking human needs in a particular order but goes much beyond that. Maslow, like many other great thinkers, was not well understood by his and our contemporaries alike. It was fashionable in his time to critic his work and a lot got written that rubbished it piece by piece. However, there are such pearls of wisdom in it that if understood well, they could possibly transform our lives.
Maslow’s primary premise of human beings was much positive. While his contemporaries focused on finding what was wrong and fixing it by looking into a person’s past, Maslow focused on human potential. He believed that if an `organism’ is provided the right climate it will produce a healthy personality and hence optimum performance. He proclaimed that self-actualization is an organism’s sovereign drive. Life’s journey is towards self-actualization.
This I think is a great insight. If we naturally gravitate towards self-actualization, then in our current area of interest, we are capable of achieving great heights.
Maslow’s the biggest contribution was indeed his understanding of self-actualization.
‘What a man can be, he must be. Self Actualization refers to man’s desire of self-fulfillment; a tendency for him to become actually, what he is potential’
Maslow says. Self Actualization is a need that grows as one starts working towards satisfying it. Other needs get satisfied eventually but Self Actualization never does. Maslow studied such Self Actualizers closely thinking that
“if we must find how tall does human species grow then we must study people who are already very tall’’.
He identified eight personality factors in people that make them self actualized. I find the following three particularly important.
It starts with what he calls `driven by purpose’. His actualizes had a purpose that was intrinsic and larger than self, certainly greater than money, security, recognition, etc. It need not be a social cause but it is something they were willing to devote themselves to, something they felt passionately for. They were possessed. Another important characteristic was that they valued experiences. They looked for a feeling of ecstatic high, an intellectual or emotional stimulus.
“They are moments of the ecstasy that cannot be bought, sought or guaranteed’, Maslow
The third most important characteristic they exhibited was autonomy. They were on their own, self-driven, self-regulated, not externally dependent, and operated without much aid. Control and external direction didn’t work with them.
I believe any great concept, if not meaningfully applied is just a waste. Therefore for me, the moot point is, How to apply this understanding in the industry, education and such other fields? In today’s challenging times we need leaders who could take risks, innovate, push their limits, open new vistas. If we could identify such `peakers’ as they are called and create opportunities for them, in the long run, we would benefit greatly. Imagine your organization has a battalion of these peakers. What would it achieve, where would it be in the next decade? The question then is how to nurture such people? Maslow believed that people could easily be inspired to move to the self-actualization level.
I have often wondered how Alexander the Great managed to inspire his soldiers who were willing to die for a cause, worked in extreme conditions, kept fighting without adequate supplies & salary, nursed severe wounds and still managed to keep their spirits high. Being able to do that in the face of a humiliating defeat and death must have been difficult. Was that an actualized force? Well, they did have a purpose that was above all else, they had a cause to die for; they were driven by an intrinsic need to conquer the world. Their ecstatic high was a dream of feeling proud upon achieving their goal or even dying for it. Their wounds gave them more joy than pain. They were mostly self-regulated, disciplined and worked without much support on many occasions. Many such examples in Indian history as well.
There is certainly a lot of value in building such armies that achieve many such feats at our workplaces using the following three steps;
1- GIVE YOUR TEAM AN INSPIRING GOAL
Like Alexander’s army, when you inspire your workforce to achieve something extraordinary, larger than life, heroic they don’t bother much about smaller pain points. Many people want to do something grand in their lives. It’s usually not difficult to spot them. Allow them to come forward with their passion if it is in line with your context.
If you don’t find the intrinsic passion mentioned above, one could try Big Hairy Audacious Goals. If leaders could find causes that could inspire people to dedicate their lives to, they will be able to unfold their true potential. Safety, excellence, innovative product, solving a complex problem, some path-breaking research or innovation, winning the pride back, scaling the highest peak, business turn around could be some such causes. It’s a creative challenge for leaders to find such inspiring goals. They need to keep throwing these baits and the peakers will come and grab them.
2- CREATE FREEDOM
Reaching actualization requires a lot of space. Space to take risks, to experiment, make mistakes, to learn and communicate. Unfortunately today, businesses have become highly risk-averse. With that, more we try to control the outcome, more we suffocate creativity. Actualized people require a lot of autonomy and leaders could help by providing a higher goal, defining boundaries and allowing people freedom within those limits. Set these conditions, success parameters but don’t micro-manage, instead offer `latitude’. Remember that Peakers don’t report on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.
Leaders could also support by becoming coaches. While technical support is easy to come by, it is the emotional support that is the real catalyst. Boosting morale while the chips are down, encouraging when experiments fail, listening and understanding them is absolutely essential. Peakers are responsive to emotional stimuli and are often driven by impulses.
As means become more easily available, more and more people will reach this stage, at a younger age. They will be in search of their Alexanders. In these days when most pyramids are turned upside down, are we looking at a trend of an army inspiring Alexander in us?