What are your needs?
I recently visited Penn State’s Wiki on Need Theories, which I found illuminating. I’ll try to capture here in brief what that site addresses in more detail.
Needs drive decision-making, so it pays for leaders to know not only what their own needs are, but what their team members’ needs are as well. Today, we’ll review three attempts to classify human needs: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer’s ERG Theory, and McClelland’s Need Theory. In the process, I invite you to consider how you’re meeting your needs and your team members’ needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
According to Abraham Maslow, humans feel compelled to satisfy lower-order needs before attending to higher-order needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs start with physiological and safety needs, which address things like shelter, food, and means of protection (including laws). Once these needs are met, humans move on to the higher-order needs (social, esteem, and self-actualization), which address how we develop with and around others.
Maslow knew that there were exceptions to his theory, but it has largely withstood the test of time and become, in many ways, the benchmark:
Alderfer’s ERG Theory
While drawing heavily from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Clayton P. Alderfer’s ERG Theory states that all the lower-order needs do not have to be met to pursue higher-order needs, and that these needs can be pursued simultaneously. In addition, Alderfer redefined some of the categories of needs. ERG stands for existence, relatedness, and growth:
Existence Needs: Physiological & Safety Needs.
Relatedness Needs: Social relationships and external esteem
Growth Needs: Internal esteem and self-actualization
Alderfer understood that progress doesn’t always go forward. In other words, just because a need is met doesn’t mean that it’s met forever or that flaws don’t develop. Bear in mind, too, that some growth might lead to satisfaction, but further growth might actually lead to frustration—frustration born perhaps from the realization of how much growth still remains. This particular condition is called Frustration-Regression (Redman 2010).
McClelland’s Need Theory
Achievement Motivation (nACH) - Those with a high need for achievement are attracted to situations offering personal accountability; set challenging, yet attainable, goals for themselves; and desire performance feedback. (Stuart-Kotze, 2009)
Authority/Power Motivation (nPOW) - Individuals with a need for authority and power desire to influence others, but do not demonstrate a need to simply have control. These individuals possess motivation and the need to increase personal status and prestige.
Affiliation Motivation (nAFF) - Finally, those with a need for affiliation value building strong relationships, admire belonging to groups or organizations, and are sensitive to the needs of others. (Stuart-Kotze, 2009) This type of person is a team player and wants to be respected and liked.
Figure: Distribution of Need Behaviors, Typical behaviors associated with motivational type. (Adapted from Swenson, 2000)
Because of its empirical nature, McClelland’s Needs Model has gathered greater acceptance from those who value quantitative support than the other two theories.
Which Model Serves You Best?
Whether you find it easier to think of human needs in Maslow’s terms (self, social, physical), Alderfer’s (growth, relatedness, and existence) or McClelland’s (achievement, affiliation, and power), what matters is that you consider your needs and your coworkers’. Your coworkers’ needs not only drive their personal and professional decision-making, but also their degree of self-worth and satisfaction. To that end, their needs can and should influence your leadership.