Meeting and Celebrating Individual Strengths: A Lesson for Leaders
“Never forget that you are one of a kind.
Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.
And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world.
In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about.
So be that one person.”R. Buckminster Fuller
Individual needs have been researched and discussed for decades and understanding them is more relevant today than ever before, both in our lives and in our workplaces. Abraham Maslow’s work in the humanistic psychology field spawned the now infamous “Hierarchy of Needs” — a construct of individual needs that depicts the process that occurs when one need is taken care of, the next level of needs is revealed, ultimately leading to self-actualization. Self-actualization, in its simplest form, is the achievement of one’s full potential. The term may have negative connotations and may be perceived as selfish or self-serving. However, the intention behind it is that once you realize your potential within, you will move to a place of living on — and with — purpose. Finding that purpose smashes open doors and windows and ceilings; and, in the long run, it becomes less about you, and more about being of service to others. It will lead to the development of you as a whole person, not just fragments of unfulfilled potential.
So, that’s the backgrounder and the theory in a nutshell. But you’re probably asking yourself how do you actually find out what you need, what makes you tick, the thing(s) that make you perform at your best, what gets you on that path to self-actualizing and living on purpose? And how do all those things apply to these uncertain and unpredictable times — to you individually and to those around you?
In a 2020 worldwide survey, Gallup found that roughly seven in 10 people are struggling or suffering in their lives. Gallup knows that a mental health pandemic can kill hundreds of thousands of citizens just as a coronavirus pandemic can.
Let’s start off by taking a closer look at Maslow’s Needs in the context of human performance in the 21st century. This version is less hierarchical and more focussed on growth than the traditional pyramid model:
- Basic Needs – These are your most fundamental physiological needs (food / water / shelter / rest) coupled with safety (physiological / psychological / certainty). If these are not being met, you won’t be able to move on. In the context of COVID-19, consider working from home and all of the associated social dynamics of being trusted while working remotely, or something as seemingly simple as having the proper technology to work from home — these are elements of basic needs that your teams might be craving.
- Relational Needs – The needs of ‘esteem’ (a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of worthiness) and ‘belonging’ (relationships, friendships, intimacy) are important to consider within a team’s culture: those who are naturally dominant in relationship building can help foster these needs for everyone. It’s important to recognize that these relational needs are often not being met in a virtual world and that it may not be evident due our interactions via a computer screen.
- Growth Needs – A significant focus on learning and development (in all its forms) is required here to become self-actualized. Who are you becoming? What are your moving towards? What do you need to best the best version of you?
“If you intentionally want to become a less significant person than your abilities allow, I warn you that you will be deeply unhappy all your life. “Abraham Maslow
Conceptually, it’s important to always be aware that needs are not linear — they wax and wane just like everything else in our lives. Some waves (needs) have to be caught for us to tap into our “optimal state” in order to perform at our best; they might not always be at the forefront. Consider the high-performance athlete: the physical preparation has to be on point AND the psychological engine needs to be engaged for peak performance. You can’t have one without the other and expect world records to fall. The recent withdrawal from the French Open by Naomi Osaka is an incredibly powerful example of someone who needed to physically remove herself from the tournament so that she could feel psychologically safe and protected. This took incredible courage from her and hopefully it makes people take note and pay attention to the needs of those around them, regardless of their status, rank or celebrity.
At the Maslow Centre for Executive Leadership, we are reimagining the needs of a whole person living, working and performing in the 21st Century. In order to better understand human needs and to develop strategies and language that support meeting those needs; we strongly feel that the first step is in identifying the needs that will allow us (and you!) to move to a self-actualizing organization. This can happen at the individual, group and organization levels.
Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment™ is a tool that helps to understand your natural way of thinking, feeling and behaving. Your natural way perpetuates your needs and how they are best met. The assessment guides you towards a process to reach your best-self (or wise-self) and allows room for growth in awareness and understanding of who you are and what motivates you. It will allow you to engage in meaningful conversations with your employees, managers and leaders so that you can set strategic goals which incorporate the unique needs and talents of each individual.
Below, we have highlighted five of the 34 CliftonStrengths and how the needs of those with these strengths impact their performance:
- ACHIEVER > highly goal-driven; needs freedom to work at their own pace.
- CONSISTENCY > needs standard operating procedures.
- EMPATHY > needs the freedom to laugh, cry, vent and feel all of their emotions without judgment.
- LEARNER > needs exposure to new experiences and information.
- WOO > needs social variability.
Let’s get a bit personal. It wasn’t until I had the awareness of knowing my strengths (a gift given to me by the CliftonStrengths Assessment™) that I allowed myself to be confident in who I am and to ask for what I need to be at my best (a major lightbulb moment!). My strengths have allowed me to see that I value, and am motivated by, the quality of work as much as the quantity (MAXIMIZER); that I am energized when I can see a creative, inventive, new way of being; that I live from a place of hope for a better future (FUTURISTIC); that I need time for one-on-one conversations that have depth and intimacy (RELATOR); that I am comfortable working on my own but am always open to exploring the unknown (SELF-ASSURANCE); and, that I am constantly collecting new ideas, best practices, data, information in order to move ideas and concepts forward (INPUT).
What happens though when needs are not being met? The fallout can be significant, ranging anywhere from disengagement to burn-out to leaving workplaces. Very few leaders that I have worked with have spent the time to create space in order to get to know me and what I need. The ones that have taken that time, have seen me come alive, flourish and be seen. The biggest lesson here has been to not only know my needs, but to also express them and weave them into my daily tasks. I do this through sharing my needs with others and studying them incessantly.
It takes time to study your true self, know yourself, be confident and ask for what you need. This applies across work, relationships, family, friends — you name it. It takes courage and vulnerability to step forward, own who you are and ask for what you need (yes, again!) — the result is incredible. Confidence, better performance, enjoyment, significance and a feeling that YOU matter, your contribution matters and both are celebrated. This is the pathway to unlock people’s potential.
“A great manager sets consistent expectations for all even while treating every employee differently according to each person’s needs.”Markus Buckingham
Coming back to how understanding needs are relevant in today’s world of work. We — as managers, leaders, employers — need to activate our “third ear”, meaning that we need to listen to the needs of our people. Sometimes those needs are unspoken but the basic needs of safety, esteem, belonging and growth are ubiquitous and cannot be overlooked. The magic lies in our ability to understand their unique needs alongside an appreciation of their natural abilities and contributions to the workplace. Remember, when our needs are met, we are able to be who we are at the most basal levels and perform at our best at the most revolutionary levels.
How do we get to that point? First, it takes a curious manager / leader / employer who values human development as much as the bottom line (if not more so). It takes time to look inward. It takes vision to move towards creating synergies in the world of work and bringing out the best of each person. It takes tenacity because this is something that needs to become a constant.
The FUTURISTIC side of me imagines a world whereby our needs are met and our strengths are celebrated and that through this individuals, teams and organizations move towards a place of being of service for the greater good. I hope you will join me in getting there.
If you’d like to learn more, please connect with us!
Consider joining our ongoing research at Project Dialogue: https://www.maslowleadership.com/project-dialogue/
Laura is the Director of Coaching Certification Programs at Maslow Center for Executive Leadership. She holds designations with the International Coaching Federation (PCC) with a background in Population Health, Sociology, and Psychology (MSc, BA). With energy and passion to launch transformational leadership in organizations, Laura brings a wealth of global experiences to her solution-focused coaching and facilitation practice. She specializes in strengths-based leadership (CliftonStrengths), emotional intelligence, and mindset education; all tools that equip emerging and established leaders so they can maximize personal and organizational effectiveness. Laura has worked in the leadership development field for over a decade across several sectors including non-profit, government, corporate, higher education, and high-performance sport.