When you give people what they need, they will give you what you want.
I share this principle with organizations when I train their employees on best practices of servant leadership. Great leaders earn the trust and respect of their people not just for having character and integrity, but because they understand human needs and put forth a best faith effort to meet those needs. Unfortunately, too many organizations lose amazing talent or don’t achieve business goals because the leaders fail to care for their people.
According to Gallup, 34% of US workers are engaged at work while 13% are actively disengaged—an improvement over previous years, but there is still more work to do. Strong employee engagement results in better business outcomes. We will not play well with others, move people towards a common goal, build healthy environments at work or move the engagement needle until we recognize that EVERY individual has the following human needs:
- The need for purpose (self-manifestation). People need to feel a part of something, that their lives matter, and that there is meaning and significance to the work they do. Great leaders cast compelling visions to their employees, helping them understand the reason why their role exists and is necessary to the organization. Then, they equip their employees with opportunities to grow and develop in that role.
- The need to feel valued (significance). People need to feel useful, that they have something of value to offer to their team, department or organization, and that their contributions matter—this is what makes them feel relevant. Great leaders align work to their employees’ strengths.
- The need for accomplishment (success). People need to feel a sense of completion, that they have finished something worthwhile—especially something that has stretched or challenged them. Achievements make people feel strong and confident and wanting to give more. To get the most out of people, great leaders recognize and reward excellent performance and also celebrate the small victories. This is validating, makes people feel seen and important, and increases engagement.
- The need for respect (self-worth). Show honor and dignity to others, especially in your speech. Remember that no one likes to be spoken “down” to under any circumstances. Leaders who have great relationships at work treat those relationships as adult-to-adult, not parent-to-child, regardless of the titles. Beware of using dangerous terminology, like “subordinate”, when describing employee relationships; when you really break down that word, it means below or beneath what is ordinary—i.e., less than. Words matter. Great leaders build people up, not marginalize them.
- The need to be acknowledged (seen). If you want people to feel important and be more engaged at work, know their story. Storytelling increases understanding and empathy, allowing you to witness the humanity in others. People need to feel like their presence matters, that they are seen as individual and unique. Great leaders spend time getting to know their employees.
- The need to belong (safety). If you’ve ever been isolated or ignored, you know this is a deep hurt. No one likes to be left out or left behind, or to see everyone else chosen but you. Great leaders are intentional about building their teams and creating a safe community for their people. Employees are more likely to be loyal and engaged, and give their best, when they feel safe and have a sense of positive attachment.
- The need for personal control (shared ownership). Do you like to be controlled? Probably not. Most people need to feel a measure of personal power, or ability to control their situations. People who feel powerless are usually depressed and disengaged, or perhaps ready to quit. Great leaders empower their employees, creating opportunities for shared ownership over work.
Whether you work for a company or own a business, recognizing and meeting these human needs will go a long way in helping you to “own your opportunities.”
Let’s have some dialogue!
- Have you ever worked in an environment that could benefit from exercising these human needs? If so, what were the end results?
- What other human needs would you add to this list?
- If you manage people, how have you applied the seven human needs discussed above?
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