You cannot teach a hungry child
After a couple of hours in traffic and still sitting in a sea of cars, I decided to pull over for a cold adult beverage. This seemed more enjoyable than shifting around in my seat to find a more comfortable position. I pulled off the interstate and into the parking lot. Here’s to hoping that this endless line of motionless vehicles gains traction by the time I leave.
Thirty to forty-five minutes inside and it was time to test the roads again. I paid my bill, got up from my seat, and walked towards the door.
As I was leaving a gentleman commented on my shirt, so I stopped to chat. We discovered that both our wives were teachers. His taught in an underprivileged school, and most of her students came from broken homes. Many had only one parent, some had none. Kids wore the same clothes day after day, and arrived tired and hungry. Their parents either neglected them or couldn’t afford to properly feed and clothe them.
He said something to me during this conversation that has always stuck with me, and it equally applies to leadership in the workplace.
You cannot teach a hungry child.
You must satisfy the essential needs First
Because they were not properly nourished, their behavior and attention were very poor. They were not prepared to be fully engaged until their essential needs were met.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he lists the physiological requirements (air, food & water) as the most essential. We naturally focus on these essential elements before we pay attention to other needs. These kids needed an education, but even more than that was an essential need – food.
Adam’s Hierarchy of Employee Needs
Leadership in corporate society is the same way. We cannot grow our employees until their most essential needs are met. To illustrate this, below is Adam’s Hierarchy of Employee Needs.
Trust in the workplace is equivalent to the food, air & water that make up Maslow’s Physiological layer. Employees need an environment built on trust, first and foremost. Trust is critical to commitment, collaboration, and communication. Without trust we fear commitment, withdraw and work alone, and communicate poorly. With trust we eagerly commit, happily collaborate, and openly communicate.
Now that we have established an environment of trust, we can begin to work on creating fully engaged employees.
The second level of fully engaged employees is safety, which also is one of Maslow’s layers. Safety in the workplace implies the freedom to take risks, to make mistakes, to speak openly, and to challenge conventional wisdom. Employees will be more engaged and more creative in a safe environment. The lack of safety leads to selfish employees, the tendency to protect ourself. But a safe environment leads to selfless employees, a tendency to do more for others.
Purpose is the third level to becoming a fully engaged employee. We all want to work on something that has purpose, that is meaningful. This is our “why”, and is a key factor in motivation and passion. Purpose establishes the value that gives true meaning to our work. It also is what pushes us to stay the course and complete the task.
After purpose is autonomy, level four. Autonomy is the freedom to make decisions, to set priorities, to establish goals. It is the freedom to work in a way that allows us to contribute the most effectively, and to do so without being micromanaged. When our hands are tied and we have no control, we disengage. We become followers instead of Leaders. Autonomy breeds active engagement.
Love and Belonging
The last level is love and belonging, which also is a level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People are not robots. We have feelings, even if they are not visible to others. We respond to our environment much better when we feel a sense of love and belonging. If we feel honest compassion and we know that we are part of the team, we become emotionally invested. Emotional investment leads to genuine motivation and passion.
The Fully Engaged Employee
Combine trust, safety, purpose & autonomy with the emotional investment from love and belonging, and you now have a fully engaged employee. Fully engaged employees are motivated and passionate. Fully engaged employees leads to satisfied customers. Satisfied customers directly corresponds to revenue and profit.
To teach a starving child, you must first give them their most basic of needs – food. To create fully engaged employees, they too must have their most basic needs met – and that starts with TRUST.
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