Leadership Implications of Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

As human resources are considered to be vitally important in companies, theories about how to motivate people to perform more efficiently and effectively are discussed extensively in research areas. One of the basic theories is Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. In this essay, the author will outline the theory and discuss the implications of the theory on leadership and modern business management.

Outline of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Maslow developed a needs-based framework of human motivation in the article "A Theory of Human Motivation" in 1943. The theory is still valid and widely used in various industries today. According to Maslow (1943), motivation is driven by the existence of unsatisfied needs, and that certain lower factors need to be satisfied before higher needs can be satisfied, which is the basis of the theory. The hierarchy contains five levels of needs, details are shown as below:

Physiological needs. Physiological needs are usually taken as the starting point for motivation theory-they are the fundamental requirements for human survival. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, clothes, sleep and other biological needs. The human body simply cannot function without these biological needs being satisfied.

Safety needs. If the physiological needs are relatively well satisfied, there then human's attention turns to a new set of needs, which may categorize roughly as the safety needs. Safety needs include personal security, human's health and well-being, safety from accidents and illnesses, freedom from fear and a lot of more related factors.

Social needs. Social needs can also be described as love and belongings. When the lower levels of needs are gratified, the first higher level need-social needs emerge. These needs are closely related to the interaction with others, human needs to feel a sense of belongings and acceptance, as well as being loved and giving love to others.

Esteem needs. Esteem needs can be grouped into internal ones and external ones. Internally motivating esteem needs are those such as self-esteem, accomplishment, and self respect, the need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom. External esteem needs are those such as reputation and recognition, the need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention.

Self-actualization needs. "What a man can be, he must be."(Maslow, 1954) This simply explained the perceived needs of self-actualization. Self-actualization needs reach the peak level of human needs, which can be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. Self-actualization needs involve the desire to realize one's potential as completely as possible and to become an ideal person.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs derives most directly from clinical experience. However, it is widely accepted and applied in business related areas, especially in human resource management area. By understanding human needs better, leaders can effectively motivate their employees and achieve business goals much easier. The author will discuss the relationship between leadership and motivation and implications for leaders to manage their employee effectively in the following part.

Implications of the theory

High levels of performance occur when leaders establish motivational environments that inspire followers to achieve objectives. A successful leader has the ability to motivate himself and others. In order to understand this point, the concept of leadership and leadership style should be examined.

Leadership is the ability of one person to influence a group of persons toward the achievement of common goals (Yukl, 1994). Blake and Mouton (1964) identified five leadership styles including impoverished leadership, authority compliance leadership, country club leadership, middle of the road leadership and team leader on two leadership dimensions namely concern for production and concern for people. Team leader is the ideal style a successful leader can become which both highly concern for production and people. As the ideal goal is difficult to achieve, more and more studies show that leaders should concern more on people other than production. In this case, concern for people means concern for employees' needs.

With significant influences by Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Malone and Lepper (1987) have integrated a large amount of motivational research into a summary of seven ways the leadership of organizations can design environments that are self motivating. a) Motivation through Challenges b) Motivation through Curiosity c) Motivation through Control d) Motivation through Fantasy e) Motivation through Competition f) Motivation through Cooperation g) Motivation through Recognition.

Modern business environment attracts enormous research on leadership and motivation, among which the introduction of transformational leadership is one of the most significant ones. "Transformational leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality." Burns (1978) said in his book leadership. Also inspired by Maslow's theory, Bass (1985) depicted transformational leadership as comprising four distinct factors: charisma, inspiration, individual consideration and intellectual stimulation. Transformational leadership is an effective leadership style which takes great understanding of employee's needs and motivation.

As theoretical arguments about what kind of leadership is preferable in today's business environment have already been talked about above, the essay focuses on some detailed examples and plans on leadership practice implementation in terms of each need in the following part.

Physiological needs. Companies should provide better staff meals with ample time and space. Companies should pay allowance on employees' food and life essentials.

Safety needs. A safe working environment should be provided, for example, in dangerous industries like construction industry, company should provide helmets to protect employees from potential dangers, warning boards should be conspicuous at extremely dangerous sites. As financial security is also a kind of safety needs, companies should pay employees fairly and ensure them stable career.

Social needs. Create an environment of team spirits, generate a feeling of acceptance and belonging by organizing company parties or company culture trainings. For those who are dispatched to other places, either within national boundaries or abroad, offer them enough time to reunite with their families.

Esteem needs. Leaders should recognize employees' achievement, either by financial means or spiritual means. Companies should set specific awards for achieving certain goals and tasks. The awards should not only be financial motivations but also mental motivations like praises. Companies should also make promotions based on achievements rather than seniority and provide status to make employees feel valued and appreciated.

Self-actualization needs. Leaders who can satisfy employees' self-actualization needs are the most effective leaders. This enables companies to fully utilize employees' ability and potentials, in which way enhance the overall productivity and effectiveness of the business. Companies can offer challenging and meaningful assignments to encourage and explore employees' creativity and innovation ability to maximum extent.

Besides, Maslow (1970) added "needs to know and understand" to the existing five level of needs. The implications for this are obvious, companies should offer both pre-work training and on-job training.


This essay gives a brief outline of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and discusses the implications for leadership in business area. As human resources become increasingly important for businesses, leaders should consider much more about human needs of all levels and provide appropriate motivations.