Building Alexander’s Army
Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy of Needs is not just about stacking human needs in a particular order but goes much beyond that. Maslow, like many other great thinkers was not well understood by his contemporaries and that misunderstanding continues even today. It was fashionable in that era to bash Maslow up and a lot got written that rubbishes his work piece by piece. However, there are such pearls of wisdom in it that if we understood them well they have the potential to transform our lives.
Maslow’s primary premise about human beings was much positive than his contemporaries who focused on finding what was wrong and fixing it by looking into a person’s past. Maslow focused on human potential. He believed that normally human personality is coherent and consistent. He also believed that if an `organism’ is provided the right climate it will produce a healthy personality and hence optimum performance. He proclaimed that self actualization is an organism’s sovereign drive. Life’s journey is towards self actualization.
This according to me is a great area of potential. If we naturally gravitate towards self actualization, then in our current area of interest, if one gets right climate, each one is potentially capable of achieving great heights.
Maslow’s biggest contribution was indeed his understanding of Self Actualization. `What a man can be, he must be. Self Actualization refers to man’s desire of self fulfillment; a tendency for him to become actually, what he is potentially’, Maslow says. Self Actualization is a need that grows as one starts working towards satisfying it. Other needs get satisfied eventually but self actualization never does. Maslow studied such Self Actualizers closely with an intend that `if we must find how tall does human species grow then we must study people who are already very tall’’. He mind mapped them and identified eight personality factors in them that make them achievers. I find the following three particularly important.
Most important one of them is `driven by purpose’. They all find a purpose which is larger than them. It need not be a social cause but it is something they are willing to devote themselves to, something they feel passionately for. They are possessed. Second important characteristic of these people is that they value experiences. They look for a feeling of ecstatic high, an intellectual or emotional stimulus. `They are moments of ecstasy that cannot be bought, sought or guaranteed’ Maslow quoted. Third most important characteristic they exhibit is autonomy. They are on their own, don’t depend on much, and operate without much aid. They are completely self driven, self regulated and self directed. Control and external direction doesn’t work with them.
How could we possibly exploit the potential of this understanding? How could we apply this understanding in the industry, education, research and many such fields? There is tremendous potential here to be unfolded. In today’s challenging times we need more and more leaders who could take risks, innovate, push their limits, open new vistas. If we could identify such `peakers’ as they are called and create opportunities for them, in the long run we would benefit greatly. The question then is how to nurture such people?
I have often wondered how Alexander the great managed to motivate his soldiers who were willing to die for a cause, worked in extreme conditions, kept fighting without adequate supplies & salary, nursed injuries and managed to keep their spirits high even when they were losing. Was that an actualized force? Well, they did have a purpose that was above all else, they had a cause to die for, they were driven by an intrinsic need to conquer the world. Their ecstatic high was a dream of feeling proud upon achieving their goal or even dying for it. Their wounds gave them more joy than pain. They were mostly self regulated, disciplined and worked without much support on many occasions. Interestingly enough if we worked to a plan, we could also build many such armies that achieve even bigger feats, using the following three steps;
- Give your team an inspiring goal. Like Alexander’s army, when you set out to win the world you don’t bother much about receiving salary on time. These goals need not be as extra ordinary as winning the world or as mundane as meeting performance targets. However, they need to be inspiring, stimulating enough. If leaders could find causes within the system that could inspire people to dedicate their lives to, then they will be able to unfold their true potential. Safety, excellence, innovative product, solving a complex problem, some path breaking research or innovation, winning the pride back, scaling the highest peak, business turn around could be some such causes. It’s a creative challenge for each leader to find such goals. They need to keep throwing these baits and the peakers will come and grab them. But once taken leader’s role becomes more important in terms of creating the right climate.
- Create freedom. Reaching actualization requires a lot of space. Space to experiment, space to make mistakes, space to communicate. More leaders try to control the outcome, more they suffocate creative forces within teams. Actualized people require a lot of autonomy and leaders could help by providing a higher goal, defining boundary conditions and allowing people freedom within those limits. Set these conditions, success parameters but don’t micro-manage. Peakers don’t report on hourly, daily or weekly basis.
- Leaders could also help the process by becoming mentors. While technical support is easy to come by from various sources, it is the emotional support that is the real catalyst. Boosting morale while the chips are down, listening and empathic understanding are absolutely essential for self actualizing people. They are responsive to emotional stimulus and are often driven by impulses. Cerebral people don’t have enough `madness’ in them to do something extra-ordinary. Managing such Peakers is therefore a very difficult task.
As means become more easily available, more and more people will reach this stage, at younger age. And like Maslow indicates, once a person is here, he is here for good. If we build this Army well, we will certainly emerge as a great power but do we currently have it in us to understand and nurture these people? Are we ready to inspire them towards something extra-ordinary or are we stuck in our own ordinariness? Are we ready to be Alexander? If our answers are affirmative then it’s a journey towards greatness and it must be undertaken, without a delay.