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Humanistic Leadership

Leadership in the business world can take on a myriad of definitions, but in the end, it's about making people productive. Whether you try to motivate, increase happiness, give a sense of purpose, be a servant, it is all about achieving the most productivity from others. We have gone about that by designing various leadership styles and methodologies. Some are complex while others are surprisingly simple. Simon Sinek has a perfectly simple approach, Why? I lovingly refer to that as the 2-year-old leader approach, why...why...why. It can be amazingly effective and the reason for its popularity.

We have all these great styles and approaches to leadership, however, we haven't defined a grand unifying theory of leadership. A single approach that ties all styles and techniques together and if achieved, forms the basis for all. It may be that we have found a unifying theory and we are just now, ready to implement it.

In 1943 Abraham Maslow released his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Shortly after its release, leaders have been applying this theory to help improve productivity. It makes great sense, meet the fundamental needs of people and get superstars like Albert Einstein. In practice, the theory has been difficult to correlate to everyday experience. Parts can be easy to explain but holes can open when trying to apply it to practical situations.

Some have started to coin the term, Humanistic Leadership. It is a new, or maybe reborn, leadership style focused on the person. This is in contrast to other styles and approaches that focus on dealing with the interaction, or thoughts of people. It forces leaders to focus on the individual and meet their individual needs. It can be difficult, time-consuming, and stress the skills of a leader, but if implemented it can produce superstars.

Humanistic leadership is born from Maslow's law, applied to the working individual to create a unified experience. It should not be used as the only leadership approach, but in combination with another leadership style. Humanistic leadership is meant to be a base for other leadership styles and techniques. The 5 levels of Maslow's Law in context of Humanistic Leadership:

  1. Physiological Needs. Do nothing else and your employee will show up to work. This is the basic of all needs and must be met to get the benefit of any subsequent levels. The employee needs at this level include: Money, Happiness, Workspace, Low Stress, Benefits, and Work/Life Balance.
  2. Safety Needs. Do this, the previous and nothing else and your employee will be generally happy. This forms the basic equation that equals general employee happiness. Most leaders spend most of their careers meeting items #1 and #2. The employee needs at this level include: Job Security, Financial Security, Physical and Emotional Security.
  3. Social Desires. Do this, the previous and nothing else and your employee will be engaged. We begin to enter into advanced applications of the theory. This level requires skillful implementation of individual customization. While the previous two levels can be generalized across many people, social desires are very unique to individuals. If you follow the DISC approach you are well aware, and if you don't go read about it. The employee needs at this level include: Positive Engagement, Appreciation, Positive Social Interactions, Teamwork, and Positive Meetings.
  4. Self-Esteem. Do this, the previous and nothing else and your employee will be inspired. We all aspire to feel like we are useful, that we contribute to a whole and make a positive difference. If you follow Freud's theory of the human psyche, this is the Ego. Its a focus on the employee's desire for long-term good for them. That could be long-term security, riches, power, learning or anything else. It goes beyond the job that is now and extends into what will become. Leaders need to coach outside of the traditional box of the role and company. Expand the box to include the future of the employee, possibly beyond the current company. The employee needs at this level include: career advancement, career training, career fulfillment, and personal development,
  5. Self-Actualization. Do this, the previous and nothing else and your employee will inspire others. The pinnacle of employee productivity and engagement. Few leaders are able to achieve this level and those that do create fanatical employees. Think of people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates. If we continue with Freud's theory of the human psyche, this is the Superego. It's a focus on the employee's desire to be part of something larger than them. It's also the ability of the leader to actualize that desire to fit the role (or a role) within the company. This can be impossible if the wrong type of employee is hired. A quick example to highlight the point. You are a leader at a company that produces nothing but blue balloons. You hire an employee that detests anything blue and feels it is a blight on the earth. You are going to be hard-pressed to meet this need for that employee. Unless you open a red balloon division and move them over to that. The employee needs at this level include: Career and Life Aspirations Alignment, Career that Ignites Passion, Career that feeds Inspiration.

It is important to remember not all needs can be met with all employees. Reaching 3 levels is ok, 4 is better, but the point is you don't have to reach level 5. Once you reach the level that is achievable with your teams you can layer on your leadership style. In fact, you should be using that style to work your way through the levels. The most effective leaders I have coached have used a servant based style to meet the employee needs and then switched to a laissez-faire style. Supporting the mantra, hire smart people, then get the heck out of their way. Very true, but you still need to meet their needs, then get out of their way.

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