“No need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives.” – Abraham Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation

I believe one of the top predictors of a person’s performance lies within their motivations and behaviors. Lately I’ve been thinking about the mechanics and influences behind these behaviors.

Have you ever heard of the psychology theory “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?”

It is an interesting concept created in the 1940’s by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. Often represented in pyramid form, the theory places basic human drives/needs into different tiers.

The 5 tiers from the bottom up: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and finally, self-actualization.

Basically, his belief suggested that in order to have room for motivation and goals at each level, one must first be satisfied in the prior level.

For example, if one is not content in a physiological need like hunger, their behavior will be defined by this. All actions will be rooted in satisfying the need to eat. They likely will not be concerned with buying new clothes or have the urge to explore a hobby like painting. Drives within higher tiers either become secondary, or non-existent.

While this theory pertains to a human’s life in general, I believe it can be translated and applied to the workplace in specific.

Examples of these drives/needs from a work perspective:
  • Physiological: Money – making ends meet to survive.
  • Safety: Job security. Health Insurance. And in a literal sense: if the work environment is physically safe.
  • Belonging: Getting along with your co-workers. Fitting in with the company.
  • Esteem: Addressing the ego. The level of recognition you’re looking for. The job title you want.
  • Self-Actualization: Realizing your full potential. Knowing your capabilities. Defining your purpose.

In keeping with Maslow’s theory, one must first be content in lower tier needs before they can truly put effort into defining their purpose.

People living their purpose is of the utmost importance to me. It is something I try to instill in my team every day.

How can my team can reach self-actualization?

Factors outside of work certainly contribute to someone’s focus within the hierarchy; but the leaders of a company carry large influence. It is up to the leaders to support their team enough to feel comfortable exploring and setting goals within the highest tiers.

One doesn’t always get the chance to consider future careers they’d like to aim for when they’re busy striving for satisfaction in job security.

A good leader helps to see that their team is at least satisfied at the 3 base levels of the pyramid.

An exceptional leader is there to help their team step-by-step to the very top. Going above and beyond to equip them with the tools they need to flourish.

What does this level of support do?

Not only does this allow team members to push themselves career-wise, it enhances performance, improves company culture, and opens doors for personal growth.

When employees feel happy yet challenged in their positions and form positive relationships with coworkers, it keeps them engaged and motivated to tackle the next goal. It can inspire others to be their best selves.

When one of us wins, we all win.

Any leader should take time to remind themselves how much of a power and privilege it is to be able to contribute to meaningful change in such a big way.


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