Actualized Leadership: What is Self-Actualization?

Actualized Leadership: What is Self-Actualization?

If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.
Abraham Maslow

We’ve all heard the term Self-Actualization, but what does it really mean?  You may recall learning about Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” during high school or college.  At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy or pyramid is “Self-Actualization” – the highest form of motivation when a person is intrinsically driven to reach his or her highest potential.  For some of us, the 40-somethings and older, we can also remember the US Army’s famous slogan that started in 1980 – “Be All You Can Be.”  This tagline was a direct result of Maslow’s influence on Lt. Colonel Jim Channon.  Channon, who was portrayed by Jeff Bridges in the movie “Men Who Stare at Goats,” led the Army’s research into new age experiments such as remote viewing, attempting to kill the enemy by staring at them (hence the movie’s title), and the realm of higher consciousness.  He based much of his initial work on Maslow’s notion of human potential and “peak experiences,” and translated Maslow’s concept of Self-Actualization into the Army’s tagline.

According to Maslow, human behavior is internally driven to satisfy certain needs.  As basic needs are met, higher order needs emerge to drive our behavior, with the highest need being “Self-Actualization” – manifesting or actualizing our ultimate potential and living in accord with our highest calling.  There are five categories of needs and human motivation.  The first, or bottom, four needs are “deficiency” needs, meaning that we are lacking or missing something in our lives that drives our behavior.  For example, we focus on our primal or survival needs first, and when these are met we have the luxury of focusing on belonging, recognition, and the like.  The fifth and highest need – Self-Actualization – is a “growth” need intended to transform or “actualize” us into our ultimate potential, turning our profession into a calling and our lives into all that they can be.  Maslow’s model, with examples for illustration, follows:

Self-Actualization Work and home life in balance; profession is a calling Boredom, alienation, lack of meaning and purpose
Esteem & Importance Recognition, confidence, respect of others, and significance Feelings of incompetence, disrespected, and inferiority
Love & Belonging Friendship, family, romantic love, and connection to others Isolation, loneliness, emptiness, and helplessness
Safety & Security Health and well-being, adequate resources, and freedom Fear, sense of impending loss, insecurity, and yearning
Physiological & Survival Breathing, food, water, sex and sleep Hunger, thirst, sexual frustration, fatigue and illness
Hierarchy of Needs Examples at Home & Work Reactions When Not Met

If you carefully examine the three leadership styles, you can begin to see their relationship to Maslow’s hierarchy.  If we assume that Physiological & Survival needs are universally required, we can begin to match the other three motive needs, and corresponding leadership styles, with the other categories:

Achievement   ->     Achiever Style   ->   Esteem & Importance Needs

Affiliation        ->      Affirmer Style   ->   Love & Belonging Needs

Power                 ->    Asserter Style    ->   Safety & Security Needs

This matching leaves one category left: Self-Actualization.  Our purpose over the next several weeks will be to explore how the need for Self-Actualization can be developed and enhanced, so that irrespective of your style, you will become a more Actualized Achiever, Actualized Affirmer or Actualized Asserter.  In order for this transformation to take place, you must think, feel and act like an Actualized Leader.  From a thinking perspective, Self-Actualized individuals are Objective, Mindful, and Hyperfocused.  From a feeling perspective, Self Actualized Leaders are Courageous, Trusting and Accepting of themselves, including their faults.  Finally, from an acting or doing perspective, Actualized Leaders are Candid, Peak Performers and enjoy Solitude.  Each of these characteristics – what I refer to as the 9 Attributes of Actualized Leaders – will be examined in greater detail so that you can begin to accurately and objectively assess where you “score” with each attribute and begin to develop a plan for growth, development and improvement.  I’m looking forward to engaging with you in this process – your future and your potential are waiting.  Besides, the rest of your life is a long time wish you had tried something.  Taking this journey will likely cause you to feel some discomfort as you accurately and objectively take stock of, and responsibility for, your life, but remember this: Fear is temporary, regret (and “all the days of your life”) is forever.


Photo provided courtesy of m00n0i

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