Most of us are pretty familiar with Maslow's hierarchy as it relates to life - physical needs at the bottom... self-actualization at the top. But it can also be applied to leadership development. Leaders, for the most part, really care about their people and company. But seeking our own needs is deeply human and does not disappear when we start caring about others. Instead, it goes underground and appears in many disguised forms. Such as:
- Only I can do this (fast enough, correct enough, etc.)
- I'm right
- I want credit for this (or my team to get credit)
- I need to market myself better
- I'm worried about money
- If our groups get merged, I may be out of a job
- I don't care what you think (or just not listening)
- How does this affect my bonus?
- It bothers me that my peers don't like me
- I'm burning out; I work too hard
- I don't care what our lofty mission says, the only thing that matters is winning
- I need to be heard (respected, promoted, etc.)
Let's start by mapping these thoughts to where they fall on Maslow's hierarchy. For example:
- Only I can do this (fast enough, correct enough, etc.) - self actualization
- How does this affect my bonus? - personal power
- It bothers me that my peers don't like me - affiliation
- I'm worried about money - security
- I'm burning out; I work too hard - physical
Recognizing how our needs come into play and can color a situation, puts us on the verge of the flip that The Zen Leader calls "It's all about me" to "I'm all about it." This is where we go from using people and situations to meet our needs to using our needs to serve others. When we flip it around, even our needs can be a positive force.
"Being selfish for our self-in-our-skin, we can get stuck in “high school,” feeding our insecurities, taking things personally, which is to make them all-about-us. Being selfish on the largest possible scale, we become all-about-it, whatever it we embrace as our world," writes Ginny Whitelaw.
This is servant leadership at its finest. Recognizing our own personal needs but not getting stuck there. Expanding our selfishness to this broader scale and becoming the champion and protector of its needs. To read more about how to make this flip, check out chapter 8 in The Zen Leader (here is a glimpse inside The Zen Leader, if you're interested).