In 1943 Abraham Maslow developed what many of us know as “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” His theory is that human psychology revolves around a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.
As you may know, lower level needs in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. The truth is that in your organizations there exists a hierarchy of behavioural needs of your employees. Our research at The Frisina Group and The Center for Influential Leadership has identified that within all organizations employees want to be treated with respect by their leadership in behaviour that communicates physical and emotional safety. When leaders fulfill the fundamental needs for trust and safety, the brains of people are readily able to move from the security part of the brain physiologically to the performance part of the brain. This is brain biology not psychology. Once people are able to focus on work from their performance brain, they become more engaged and connect to the meaning and value of their work at higher levels of performance. The ability of a leader to communicate trust and safety to their team members creates an upward spiral of performance potential. The opposite of this brain biology fact is equally true. Create a toxic work culture — behave as a leader in ways that undermine the tenets of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and you do so at your own performance peril and the performance outcomes of your team.
So often we hear in leadership education that we are to “lead by example.” Too often this translates to leaders that if I want my employees to work as hard as I do, than that means I have to demonstrate it through my own initiative. Sadly this concept gets oversimplified. When leaders want employees to work longer hours, they think that they set that example by staying at work the longest. The reality is if you really want to impact your workforce and lead by example, start caring for the emotional and physical wellbeing of your people. Start appealing to the hierarchy of organizational behaviours that do exist in your workplace. Start respecting your people, start clearly and effectively communicating with your employees, and start demonstrating to them that their work is creating lasting meaning and has purpose.
If you want a robust and dynamic workplace that is achieving high marks in performance and excellence, then lead by example absolutely; start showing and demonstrating these behaviours to your people. People cannot proceed in the direction you want them to without clear guidance and communication. Likewise, who wants to work in an environment where individual efforts are diminished by leadership? What person, you included wants to invest more time and effort in work when both you, as a person, and your work are not valued or respected by leaders of the organization. To prove this point, think about how children express themselves when answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most often children identify nurses, fireman, paramedics, astronauts, doctors. They identify professions that demonstrate a sense of meaning and purpose. They demonstrate a value to others and of working to a purpose that exceeds their own individual desires.
People, regardless of their profession, want to know that what they are doing is providing value and a purpose to their lives and the lives of others. We may not be what we once wrote down in grade school, but regardless, as leaders, we ought to be doing everything in our ability to translate to our people that what they are doing in our workplaces is providing lasting meaning and purpose. It’s our job as leaders to lead by example, to ensure we are meeting and encouraging the behavioural needs of our people. We choose to lead or follow. In either choice, behaviour as a whole and communication specifically, becomes the fundamental factor in how we connect effectively with others. Highly effective relationships are essential for you to achieve your own sense of meaning and purpose. No one wins alone.
Communication remains a critical and vital element of effective organizational performance. Communication is vital to creating effective collaborations that will drive performance in the production, safety, quality, and financial indicators of the organization. You will never achieve effective collaborations without effective communication framed in a positive and energized manner. You will never achieve effective communication without honing the skill of Positive Presence — the ability to adjust and create a positive and energized mindset within our self through conscious thought processes.