The term “organic” is thrown around quite regularly these days, mainly in regard to food, but driving to dinner last night my wife and I discussed the term in relation to leadership. While organizations spend billions of dollars each year trying to hire the best leaders, there will always be some that fail and other that succeed. What separates the two types of leaders is their ability to become organic to their employees or subordinates. But what does organic mean in terms of leadership?
Organic Leadership – natural, motivating, compelling, effortless, inspiring hard work, creativity and innovation, fun
Non-Organic Leadership – unnatural, forced, coercive, minimal effort from subordinates, conformity, mechanical
An organic leader is one who we naturally want to follow, not because we’ll get fired if we don’t (though we may), but because something inside of us believes that they are adding value to our lives, businesses, and organizations.
Yet, while it may “feel” effortless, organic leadership is quite intentional. Organic leaders completely blow their non-organic counterparts away when it comes to one area: their ability to motivate and inspire people by meeting their higher needs.
A quick history. In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a landmark study on human motivation in relation to a hierarchy of needs. His study was unique because his subjects were successful, creative people, not the usual sick and disturbed crowd. He found that humans have needs which can be placed in two groups, basic and meta(growth), the higher depending on the fulfillment of the lower.
photo credit: savethedave
Basic or Deficiency Needs –
Physiological – food, water, sleep, sex, breathing
Safety – free from danger, security both physically and financially, clothing and shelter
Love/Belonging – social relationships, friendships, family, intimacy, need to be accepted
Esteem – respect from others, self-esteem, recognition, feeling valued and adequate
Meta or Growth Needs -
Cognitive – learn, explore, make sense of the universe, discover new things
Aesthetic – beautiful imagery, order, perspective
Self-Actualization – understanding yourself, knowing who you are and where you are going, realizing your full potential
Non-organic leaders meet only the first four basic needs, sometimes even less. Organic leaders meet these lower needs, but also have the ability to meet people’s higher needs: cognitive, aesthetic and self-actualization.
Think of the leaders that have inspired you. Chances are they excited you on a cognitive level by helping increase your knowledge and understanding. On an aesthetic level they were able to inspire you through imagery and unique perspective. And in all of this they allowed you to reach your full potential.
“Most innovative,” “Inspiring,” “Purpose-driven,” these are the words reserved for organic leaders, not for leaders who simply provided a safe work environment and steady paycheck, but for those who make it all seem so natural, those who understand the hierarchy of needs.
What have leaders done to inspire you? Do you agree with Maslow’s hierarchy? Why or why not? Let the discussion begin!