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Leading in a Crisis: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Robert Greiner
Robert Greiner
6 min read
Leading in a Crisis: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Super excited to talk to Charles Knight about leading in times of uncertainty. We discuss Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, how the framework applies to everyday leadership situations, and practical ways to adapt your style during a crisis.

You can listen to the podcast episode above and you can read more about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs here


Robert (00:06):
99% of the time of our careers working together, we focus all of our energy on belongingness and above at the psychological needs level. And we, we talk a lot about self-actualization and what that looks like and how that's different for different people. We certainly address esteem needs. And really our floor in good times is belongingness. It's very difficult to have a work-related conversation about a deliverable or about someone's career when they, they don't know where they're going to be living next week, or their parents have COVID or their kids are starting school. And they're not quite sure what decision to make, you know, remote or in person and what the implications of that are. And so what I wanted to talk to you about today is the reality of this new floor, which is down into the basic needs, and then what we can do as leaders to help our teams, our people, our organization.

Charles (01:07):
Yeah, I think you're right. I mean, that's the privilege of, of kind of most most of Western society, if you've got a job, right? Your lower basic needs are met. I think the crisis shows that we're all susceptible to being pushed down this hierarchy into the basic needs. And, you know, when I think about the responsibility of a leader during a crisis, it's to, you know, recognize that there's, there's going to be this rapid cycling, you know, up and down this hierarchy, but there's just volatility that comes along with a crisis where if you talk to somebody last week and they're good, right. And they're able to focus on a a deliverable or a project or some sort of outcome. It doesn't mean the next week they will. Right. Because things are changing so rapidly and there's so much uncertainty out there.

Charles (02:09):
And so I think part of, part of what came to mind as you were showing me, this is that as leaders, we have to recognize that people's basic needs will get challenged and that it's not a question of if it will, it will. And we have to start by you know, with every touch point assessing what they need right in that moment. And so the nature of my one-on-ones have changed and the nature of my check ins with myself have changed too. Because, as a leader, I have to assess, okay, where am I in this, in this hierarchy as well, because if I'm dealing with, Oh my gosh, how do I keep my safe? When thinking about going back to school I'm not in the right head space and heart space to, to think about and address other's needs as well. And so, yeah, I think this is very relevant and you know, some other time we can talk about some, some personal situations where I was pushed way down, low in crisis and had to rely upon others to kind of help me get back up. But that's what I think about as a leader, right? It's like, what have I learned having gone through crisis that I can, I can share with others

Robert (03:36):
And what are some tactical things that you do when you kick off your one-on-one with someone just sort of gauge where they're at.

Charles (03:46):
That's good. Two things, one, I think the there's regularly scheduled one-on-ones and then there's ad hoc kind of check ins. In a crisis, I think you have to ramp up the frequency of interaction to adress, to be able to adapt to the, you know, kind of the rapidly changing needs of your team. But, I really, really pay attention to tone of voice, right? The first words that come out of people's mouths when we chat tell a lot, really tell a lot. And that is what I, you know, I think in a pre crisis mode, it's really easy to just kind of, you know, chit chat, Hey, how things go on, what's going on? What are you up to? And, and then kind of get into the groove of dialing into what is being discussed right now, dialing into that nonverbal communication.

Charles (04:57):
I think I've been really trying to hone in on what is the first thing that they say, what is their tone of voice saying? And, and that tells me a lot, right? That tells me if, if I need to completely drop my agenda and just ask questions or if I need to follow their lead it's hard to say, cause it's, it's so individual. But, I think if you really pay attention to the first things that are said, it can inform how you ask questions and you kind of show up in that one on one.

Robert (05:38):
Yeah. I really liked that for two reasons. One, it's practical, right? You can, you can have a little checklist, you can have it up on your screen, you can have it written down and just like, Hey, I pay, pay close attention to the first words that also helps you be present in the moment, which I think is a really good thing for us to do during times of crisis, especially. And also though this presupposes that, you know, your teams, well, you know, the humans that you work with well, and you can sense when something's up, you have a baseline. And so one thing I want to talk to you a lot about as we go on is this idea of almost like crisis inoculation, right? What are the things as a leader you should be doing before the next crisis? Right? We'll get through this thing, pandemics end, you know economic cycles rebound.

Robert (06:32):
The future is bright. What are things when we're in the next expansion, when times are good, what can we be doing as leaders to help prepare for the next crisis? And one of those is absolutely what you outlined, which is getting to know your people really, really well, so that, you know, when something's up and that will help in good times too. But especially now, when, like you said, basic needs are threatened, you have an early warning system built into your spidey sense, which will help you support your team, which I really liked that. So, yeah, that's good. One thing I've found too is a lot of times I'll ask, I don't make a habit of doing it every time, but in my last sort of group discussion with my mentor tree, I just said, Hey, on zoom, everybody you know, react, use the thumbs up reaction if your physical needs are being met, like, do you have everything that you need?

Robert (07:27):
And you know, I, I had this sort of Brady bunch view on there. And I saw all the, everyone said that their needs are being met. And so I felt like, Hey, in that moment, you know, things are good for now. There's nothing actionable needed by me. And, then every now and then, yeah. And one-on-ones, especially when I do, I try to spend some of them outside walking and, and encourage others to, you know, get up and get active and moving and kind of encourages the physical needs, right. Getting movement. And also it's a little bit more informality, or it can say like, Hey, I'm just calling. I really want to just check in with you right now. Is everything going well? And you know, I had a, sort of the initial feeling of the conversation. This was three weeks ago, was everything everything's good. The first few words were, were positive. And when I kind of said, Hey, I just want to check in on you. How are you doing? It's like, actually, like things are, things are really tough right now. Like I've been burning the candle at both ends, my basement flooded, you know, I'm dealing with that. And you know, this just, there was this outpour of personal and professional concern that was not obvious at the beginning. And so I think sometimes people will tell you if you ask.

Charles (08:46):
Yeah. I think, I think that's a good point that there's, you know, you it's worth asking again, right. Because if you continue to ask you'll, you'll get different answers. And one of the things that reminds me that I do in every one on one now is I, I ask when are you going on vacation next? Right. Because naturally there's just a depression and the willingness and desire to take vacations, especially because there's limited travel. And, and yet there's still benefit even if you stay home and disconnect. And so I, every one on one, I asked that question, that's like, Hey, you know, when have you gone on vacation, one of you planning to go again. Andoftentimes through that you can help the person identify that they might have some more basic needs that need to be met. That would be better served by taking time off. So I really liked that as a very tactical kind of practical questions.

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Professional optimist. I write a weekly newsletter for humans at the intersection of business, technology, leadership, and career growth.

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