Considering that the foundations of business success are time-honored, I often refer to Maslow’s Pyramid in my speaking and consulting engagements. It has and continues to be one of the best tools for learning the practice of leadership. I believe that people can only respond to you based on where they are in that process; nothing I’ve seen in three decades changes that fact.
With science and technology, we can leap forward in huge chunks of time and space. I am a fan of Daniel Burrus, a man ahead of his time in this area. His predictions are not of the Nostradamus genre, but he has been correct more often than not about where our inventions, technology, and products will take us in the future. (Trekkies might say that he and Gene Roddenberry have a lot in common.) I love the contradiction in Burrus’s philosophy about, “skipping the problem,” and, “go opposite,” along with other wonderful concepts, helping us train our minds to see solutions that are invisible when using traditional thinking.
However, in the realm of human studies, time is moving much more slowly. As a student of the human condition, I have worked with hundreds of employees and students over the years. With the disclaimer that I am not academically qualified in the social sciences or psychology, may I make the argument that in our lifetime, human beings will not change very much? Humans have not changed very much at the basic core for a thousand years or more. We survive first. We think afterward. We love first and think later.
In other words, we can only see, hear, and focus on the level of the Maslow Pyramid in which we live. Within that set of circumstances – and not any further – we will exist until that layer is satisfied. Sometimes we work up and down this pyramid, depending on the stage of our life or current circumstances. Emotional reactions and decisions are the reality which leaders have to address in their own practices and among their charges, employees, or other team members. This thought might even explain gang warfare, religious wars, and – unfortunately – some politics!
Likewise, if we leaders can learn to understand the layer in which our employees live, we can direct our influence properly. We can deal with their needs and their next steps in development from a place where they can hear us and react in a progressive, productive way. Like it or not, if we don’t address them from their own perspective, we will not be effective.
From a generational and cultural perspective, this also applies to the marketing we do to our customers. Kelly McDonald addresses this diversity issue in her terrific book Marketing to People Not Like You. And if you are in sales, you might find the answers to one of your diversity issues in Judy Hoberman’s Selling in a Skirt.
Thousands of books have been written about how leaders should behave, coaching us about our actions, our processes, our methods. Fewer books exist which instruct us about how we should treat our charges, focusing on their needs instead of ours. This is my message, and hopefully, my little book will help you see and adjust your leadership style from a new perspective.
The challenge of leading with a focus of others’ needs is that we live in an era of split-second responses and life-like descriptions in 140 characters or less. Taking the time to individually relate and respond in person to each employee is going to feel like an impossible request. Getting to know people at that level takes time, which is arguably our most valuable and most guarded asset. Similar to an orchestra conductor learning the music he may never actually play, you are beholden to the process of actually knowing your charges; you cannot avoid it if you want to have the most effective team, whether that is your family, your staff, your volunteer group, or your business partners.
My story has always included a love of animals. Time, space, geography, marital status, education, tragedy, and joy have always included the silver threads of my strong faith and my beloved pets. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want a horse. Dogs were as much a part of my day growing up as they are now, and I cannot count the number of cats I’ve had over my several decades on earth. A few of the birds I’ve owned didn’t make this text, but Mardi Gras, Margarita, Coast, Goofy, and Charlie still left me with warm memories that I’d never trade.
Seemingly everyone has a story about a pet. A vast majority, 88 percent, of Americans own at least one pet, and 72 percent own two or more. Science tells us that humans live longer when they have a pet. (This is great for me; I’ve loved so many pets that it means I’ll live forever. At the least, my arrival at the Pearly Gates will be met with a stampede!) Some studies tell us that stroking a cat or dog lowers your blood pressure; one report even claims cholesterol is lowered. Medical centers the world over allow therapy dogs. The reasons listed vary, but owning a dog might mean you walk more or further; and there are also benefits to owning a cat. The proof, at least according to the World Wide Web, goes on and on: keeping animals as pets is good for us! Besides, there’s just something about keeping and caring for pets that makes humans more human.
In much the same way that we treat each animal according to its unique needs, leaders must be flexible and adapt their style to the needs of their charges as well. I have found that the most classic stories, told many times and in different ways, are often the purveyors of the most valuable lessons. So wherever you are on the pyramid of human experience, I hope you will find and share your unexpected lessons of leadership. And take your time. Speed isn’t always the answer.