1. Lessons In Leadership

A Maslow Moment

It’s normal to feel needy sometimes.

The people I work with find it amusing that I am such a big fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And yes, I’ve blogged about Abraham Maslow more than a few times. But here’s the thing — his work remains relevant. And it explains so much about the things we are grappling with these days, from supply chain challenges to the toxic polarization that can strangle the simplest conversation. Maslow reminds us that when our needs are threatened — whether those needs are physiological or psychological — we revert to our baser self-defense instincts.

Something that is often overlooked in discussions about the Hierarchy of Needs is that Maslow never saw it as a one-way escalator to self-actualization. He understood that one’s circumstances and corresponding needs are in constant flux. It’s the three-steps-forward, two-steps-back phenomena. On any given day, it can feel as though our hard-earned progress is being put at risk. And whether or not the threat is real, our anxiety about it is. So, understanding Maslow, we need to meet people where they are and offer encouragement, not judgement.

Let’s unpack that. Today’s leaders are trying to reimagine how our businesses work in this post-pandemic environment. Many of the old assumptions are obsolete. That means we are increasingly required to take risks and advance through uncharted territory. We are asking our people to embrace disruption and plunge ahead into the unknown, which is scary and almost certainly fraught with setbacks and minor failures. The sheer effort of constantly course-correcting can be exhausting. It’s hard to maintain a grace-under-pressure smile when our resilience is waning.

And this is where Maslow helps us understand the dynamics of human interaction at play today. He wrote, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”

That’s what we’re all trying to do. We are overcoming fear and trying to move forward toward growth. Every day. With every decision. And it’s terrifying. So, the best way we can help each other out is by recognizing when someone is having a “Maslow moment.” We can take time to understand what threat is holding them emotionally hostage and we can help bolster their courage. We can provide a simple affirmation or, better yet, a helping hand to pull them up and secure their footing in the journey toward self-actualization.

The reverse is also true — when we feel ourselves slipping, we can reach a hand up and ask for help. We must choose to move forward toward growth. But we don’t have to go there alone.

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