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Understand peoples true drivers

This article talks about human needs driving motivation. We discuss Maslow hierarchy of needs, Robbins six human needs as well as the definition and main characteristics of self-actualizers.

One of Leaders’ main objectives is to sustain employees’ motivation. Trying to understand what drives your employees and how to motivate them is primordial to ensure the long term success of any enterprise. While there is no doubt that people are driven by the desire to fulfill their needs - the question is whether those can be captured in one model or if they are specific to each person.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In 1943, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of motivation based on a hierarchy of five primary human needs. Maslow’s work is significant because he chose to study healthy people, at a time when most psychological research was focused on neurosis and psychosis. As a result of his research, Maslow’s so-called ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as the five-level pyramid we all know, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower more basic needs are met.

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Although Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been criticized for being overly-schematic and lacking in scientific grounding, it presents an intuitive and potentially useful theory of human motivation. If you are worrying about where your next meal is coming from, you probably aren’t spending much time contemplating the more abstract aspects of life.

The list of different types of intelligence listed in the right is our personal addition as we think it provides a good insight on what is needed to satisfy each need. These are also future topics for our newsletter.

You and your employees decision to pursue a given career direction is likely to be a combination of these factors. According to Maslow’s theory, the kind of work one decides to do is a reflection of the level of satisfaction of your needs. When basic physiological and safety needs are covered (minimum wages and job security) most people are motivated by belonging, self-esteem, and/or self-actualization needs. Because the focus on need satisfaction is a dynamic and developmental process, we should keep in mind that employees’ motivations change as they gain life experience.

Robbins Six human needs

By being more conscious of our needs and those of others, we can increase the overall contribution. Having a model, enables leaders to more easily recognize, remember and potentially modify human behavior. Understanding these drivers draws conscious awareness to otherwise non conscious processes to improve the well-being of ourselves and that of others.

Tony Robbins’ six human needs is another model for human motivation. It is simple and at the same time very powerful in recognizing which needs drives our action, to better understand our behavior and eventually consciously decide to modify it.

1. Certainty: The assurance that you can avoid pain and gain pleasure or comfort. Some people pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives.
2. Uncertainty/Variety: The need for the unknown, change, new stimuli. Variety makes us feel alive and engaged.
3. Significance: Feeling unique, important, special or needed. The belief that one’s life has meaning and importance.
4. Connection/Love: A feeling of closeness or union with someone or something.
5. Growth: An expansion of capacity, capability or understanding.
6. Contribution: Being of assistance, supporting others or a cause, to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way.

Certainty and significance are the main drivers for most. At work, autonomy is really motivational as it provides certainty. The less control people have over their own destiny, the higher their level of stress and demotivation. This is why managing change is so difficult, as it creates uncertainty, and can be perceived as a threat, leading to demotivation and a lack of productivity. Fear is a protective mechanism designed to keep us alive and in certainty. Giving control to staff over how they plan their day or manage their workload can have a dramatic effect on motivation levels. Also consider how many people stick with a job they do not like to be certain to provide some minimum comfort to their family?

Significance at work generally translates into status, relating to people’s position, in relation to others such as their peers, their colleagues, their manager, their friends and associates. It can be affected by public recognition, public criticism, job title, functions, salary and softer factors like having a corner office. Some use competition to bring significance into their lives.

As social animals, we definitely all need to feel connected. The quality of people’s interactions with others has a direct effect on their level of motivation. This can include someone’s relationship with their boss, with other team members, with other people within the organization and outside. Whereas in our private life we need love, as we all want to be cared for and about.

The need for variety adds spice and adventure, if everything was certain, then life would be rather boring. However we usually only accept the surprises we like, as otherwise we tend to call them problems. Whereas the unknown can be stressing as we get outside our comfort zone, it is actually much needed for us to grow. It is often when we are seriously challenged that we truly learn and develop ourselves. If we are scared to do something new, it might be a sign that the outcome is important for us, and requires that we stretch ourselves to succeed.

Most lives are driven by certainty and significance. How interesting it would be if we tried instead to switch more to uncertainty and love.

The last two needs for growth and contribution are the drivers for a life of fulfillment and meaning. Understanding our needs, and which ones we are trying to meet at any given moment, can help us to create new patterns that lead to more fulfillment.
Watch Robbins’ TED video on the 6 human needs.

Self-actualization characteristics

Research shows that when people live lives that are different from their true nature and capabilities, they are less likely to be happy. Maslow explicitly defines self-actualization as the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the full realization of one’s true potential. Maslow based his theory partially on his own assumptions or convictions about human potential and partially on the case studies of people whom he believed to be self-actualized, including Albert Einstein and Henry Thoreau. A self-actualizer is a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials. In his studies, Maslow found that self-actualizers share similarities.

Whether famous or unknown, educated or not, rich or poor, self-actualizers tend to share the same qualities:

1. Reality: Self-actualizers efficiently perceive reality; they are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest.
2. Acceptance: Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance. They accept what is in life, even if the current circumstances are temporarily unpleasant.
3. Spontaneity: Self-actualizers extend their creativity into everyday activities; they tend to be unusually alive, engaged, and spontaneous.
4. Purpose: Self-actualizers have a mission in life or some task or problem ‘beyond’ themselves.
5. Autonomy: Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
6. Gratitude: Self-actualizers seem to constantly renew appreciation of life’s basic goods, a freshness of appreciation. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an "innocence of vision", like that of an artist or a child. They fully appreciate the present moment.
7. Humanist: Self-actualizers feel a deep empathy with others and the human situation in general.
8. Profound relationships: The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
9. Enjoy solitude: Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizers value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
10. Peak experiences: Self-actualizers all report the frequent occurrence of peak experiences. These occasions are marked by feelings of ecstasy, harmony, and deep meaning.

In summary, self-actualizer feel safe, loved, alive, and living a fulfilling live. They somehow managed to find their core-nature, their true self, one of the main goals in life.

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