A leader by definition has followers. These followers could be any people we interact with during the course of our day where we would be in a position to influence their behavior in some way. These followers could be our peers, supervisors, subordinates, friends, family, and spouses. Remember that leadership is not because of a title or where one might sit in an organization. One only has to influence others to have an impact on their behavior. According to Maxwell (2005), “leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit” (p. 7).
The goal of this writing is to look at the specific impact that leadership has on those around us and what it means to be human. To know how to impact one’s followers effectively, one has to know about human nature and what makes people tick. In other words, what motivates us and those around us to get things done? For answers, we turn to Abraham Maslow and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In the 1970s, researcher Abraham Maslow wanted to know just this—what gets people doing. He asked the questions of what people did and why. The answers formed what we refer to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy believes that we start with the most basic needs first (see Figure 1) where the bottom needs must be met first before going to the next level in the hierarchy. For example, food, water, and shelter are the most basic and the most important. Unless these needs are met first and foremost, we are simply unable to focus on much of anything else. Once these (1) immediate needs are met, they we can focus on things such as (2) safety, (3) belongingness and love (friends, family—being part of something bigger than ourselves), (4) esteem (recognition, promotion, belief in ourselves), and (5) self actualization (who we are and where we’re going, what we want to accomplish in this world).
Maurer (2010) concludes that we don’t need more theories about what to do, we simply need to get going and put into practice what we already know. We need to focus on what do we do, why do we do it, and how can we get others to do it with us. We need to take into account that we don’t live by ourselves or in a vacuum. Instead, we come in contact with people every day and we need to look deeper into how we all get along to work together to get things done. We need to ask: How can we as leaders do to more effectively influence those who follow us to be successful?
First, people focus on what is important to them first. As Maslow offers, we need to make sure we have the basics covered, then we can begin to move on to bigger and more important things such as our family and friends, our career, and then perhaps look within and work on our inner self—to be the kind of person and leader we hope to be (self actualization).
In addition to Maslow, we can turn to Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivational Factors. Herzberg’s focus is based on Maslow’s thinking however with more of a focus on the work environment. The questions that Herzberg asks are similar, these questions are simply asked when we’re at work such as what keeps us motivated and happy, and what doesn’t? Herzberg’s offers eight factors that he calls Hygiene or Dissatisfies such as how we interact with others at work (coworkers, and bosses) and what makes work worthwhile (compensation, benefits); and six other factors that he refers to as Motivators or Satisfiers with how we feel about our job with regard to achievement and advancement. The purpose is to find out how to keep people happy (including ourselves) and to do more of it; and to avoid things that make us unhappy, to do less of this. The secret is to know what works best for each of us as we all work together. We just have to keep in mind that we may each be in a different place on Maslow’s Hierarchy or be motivated by different Herzberg’s factors.
Lastly, we can also consider the works of McGregor and his Theory X and Theory Y for additional clues with regard to the many assumptions we all make about human behavior. We can either assume that people do not like work and will do whatever possible to avoid it where they need to be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punish them (Theory X); or work is just a natural part of life where people will exercise self direction if they are committed to the end result because commitment is simply part of their rewards’ system for a job well done (Theory Y).
Our goal for this week is to take a deeper look into the impact that the behavior for leaders has on the people that follow them. According to Maxwell (2005), “leadership is more disposition than position” (p. 60). Where we are within an organization is not nearly as important as the influence that we have on those around us. “It’s more important to get along with people than to get ahead of them” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 60). When we are happy with where we are (we have all of our initial needs met according to Maslow), and we know what motivates us (Herzberg Factors), we are more likely to have a positive impact on those around us.
Maurer, R. (2010, July). Applying what we’ve learned about change. The Journal for Quality Participation, 33(2), 35.
Maxwell, J. (2005). 360 degree leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.