What Maslow Can Offer Us in the 21st Century?
Many articles today in 21st century are concerned with leadership, but rather ignore the perspective of the follower. Why does a follower follow? What does he or she get out of it?
Back in 1943 Abraham Maslow developed the concept of a ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, suggesting that men were always striving to satisfy those needs. His theory is well covered by Wikipedia, which comments on the various qualifications that have been offered in the succeeding seventy years. In the current climate of rapid change there are many articles that look at what change is and why it fails. I would like to revisit Maslow’s theory and consider what a leader can do to meet the needs of the followers.
Maslow food and clothing
Maslow’s first level of needs was the need for food and clothing and shelter: basic things that keep a person alive. That is still not change, and in western society is meet through a salary or wages from employment or state benefits. People expect those needs to be meet, and they are. The next level of needs are know by Maslow as the need for safety, or security. He envisaged people asking themselves, “How long is this going to continue?”
Today, security and safety are not on offer and those who expect them are likely to be disappoint. The era of constant change has arrived and they will be disappoint. If they are looking to a commercial or even a government organization to provide them. In the Maslow theory, this is a disaster. Other needs are postulated, the next level being ‘social needs’ such as love and a feeling of belonging. “It is crucial that the psychological and safety needs of a person are met first. Then they can develop needs of love and belonging”. So, the most depressing image is that of an employee struggling desperately to find something that does not exist. And unable to recognise any other form of satisfaction.
Work and Skill on 21st Century
It is not quite as bad as that, because feelings of safety can arise from domestic happiness or leisure interests or personal skills not related to work. But the leader of a work-related organization must surely hope that some motivation will exist within the work environment. What are the possibilities?
1. Redefining Security
Redefining security as something that comes from within the person instead of a gift from outside. This means up-skilling so that people believe they have a competence beyond their present role. It means helping them to know more, and do more, and allowing them an opportunity to practice. It sounds simple but is desperately hard for a leader to do. When short-term obedience to organizational structure has been the name of the game for centuries. Not least is the expense and risk of finding a replacement for somebody. Who has seen an opportunity and moved on.
2. Nurturing Confidence
Nurturing confidence in a person or team so that an individual will think. “If anybody can keep this organization safe and secure, it is our current leader”. The opposite of this is an atmosphere of doubt expressed by the question. “Do they really know what they are doing? It does not look like it to me.” One way to project understanding of a vision and confidence in it’s attainability is a simulation of the new state, sometimes it called a Business Game. Such a device can model many aspects of an imagined situation through an experience that is also interesting and enjoyable. It is an effective way of saying, “This is what it will be like”. The creation of such a device also forces a leader to sharpen the definition of the imagined state and put dreams (which can be hard to understand) into hard descriptions.
3. Meet the Satisfaction Parameters
Make real the satisfaction of meeting the higher-level needs that lie beyond on 21st Century, hence security in the Maslow hierarchy. Reject his thesis that it can’t be done, and somehow leapfrog the gap. The hope is that people will then feel. “This is a great place to be and I am going to enjoy it as long as it lasts”. The words used by Maslow all those years ago are encouraging. He writes of ‘Friendship’ and ‘A sense of belonging’ and what he calls ‘Esteem Needs’. “People need to feel that they have accomplished things that are valuable and important. They also want to be independent, meaning that they can do things for themselves and do not need to depend on anybody else”. Susan Fowler suggests people need autonomy, relatedness and competence.
All those are benefits that leaders can provide. If they possess or can develop an understanding of what is need and the behavior to put it all into practice. On 21st century And great leaders have always done this. Once Napoleon told his soldiers in Egypt, “From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us”’. So that must have given them good feelings about the importance of what they were doing. And from more recent times we can recall the speeches of Churchill. It can done. We need to do it now.