Abraham Maslow on Enlightened Management
During the summer of 1962, the celebrated psychologist Abraham Maslow served “as a sort of Visiting Fellow at the Non-Linear Systems, Inc. plant in Del Mar, California,” and there he formulated a progressive theory of “eupsychian” management that made possible higher forms of social and interpersonal organization (xxii).
Many readers will recall Maslow’s psychological theory that all human beings aspire to become self-actualizing individuals who realize their full potential through the gratification of a “hierarchy of needs.”
At the base of that pyramidic structure are physiological needs (such as food, water, and shelter). Working upward towards its peak are safety needs (law, social order, and freedom from fear) and belongingness needs (friendship, love, and affection). When those essential needs are met, individuals may thereafter attain the self-actualization that results in mastery, achievement, respect, and meaningful contributions to society.
At work, self-actualizing people are “highly evolved individuals” who make their occupations part of their self-definition. When managers assign their employees work that “tends to improve the people involved” (making them grow toward self-actualization), it leads directly to the improvement of the organization, and the broader society, as well (1).
In other words, there exists a positive circular relationship between meaningful work and social and organizational betterment. Thus, the proper management of the work life of human beings, Maslow asserts, “can improve them and improve the world” (1). Self-actualizing work results in healthy and stable self-esteem, and it instills in people a sense of worth, influence, and importance—and in that context work becomes therapeutic and integrative (16-17).
Moreover, self-actualized individuals possess an innate desire to seek personal growth through service to self and others, and out of that movement away from egoic concern comes self-transcendence (the highest level of personal development). Maslow singles out higher education as an essential aspect of that ameliorative project, for through the “improvement of educational institutions” people might be made “better en masse” (2).
For this reason, the managerial styles adopted by college and university leaders are critical, not only to the welfare of the people working under them (and to the students), but to that larger project of social amelioration. If you are a part-time or full-time employee of an American public or private college or university, ask yourself: “Do my institutional leaders foster self-actualization in their employees and sustain the virtuous loop that improves society?”
Enlightened managers, Maslow shows, assume that their people want to achieve, anticipate good will among their employees (in place of petty rivalry or jealousy), and they understand that hostility is “reactive rather than character-based,” and “therefore not to be stifled or discouraged” (20-27).
Highly effective managers assume that people are improvable and prefer “personhood and identity“ to “being anonymous or interchangeable.” They see that mature healthy individuals would rather be prime movers, not mere tools, in the workplace, and they therefore delight in providing “new challenges, new activities” that lead to “a higher level of skill” in their employees (38-9).
Peter Drucker and other proponents of Enlightened Management Theory demonstrate that this “higher kind of human being,” who strives for a “higher life” at work, is realizable only when biological and physiological needs, safety needs, love and belongingness needs, and esteem needs are met.
Today, part-time faculty members constitute a majority of the professoriate in the United States. They are “free-lance” workers, “independent contractors,” who teach an increasing share of courses, but who make on average less than $20,000 per year—before taxes.
By any standard, salaries in this range do not meet the physiological or safety needs that Maslow identifies, and they are undignified given the level of expertise required to teach courses at the tertiary level. Consequently, part-time faculty members face greater difficulty in realizing the subsequent social and esteem needs that lead to self-actualization.
Unfortunately, part-time faculty members too often must endure what Maslow calls “forces of regression,” including antisynergic organization and “anything that increases fear or anxiety.” When present in the workplace, these negative forces undermine gratification of the hierarchy of needs (53).
Conversely, the function of any educational system, organization, or good society should be toward growth and realization of the “metamotivational state” that gives rise to self-actualization in people (48). Yet, very few “managers and or writers on organization theory” possess the “courage to think in far terms, in broad-range terms, in utopian terms, in value terms” (49).
Such leaders tend to “feel they’re being hard-headed if they use as the criteria of management success or of healthy organization” smaller “labor turnover, less absenteeism, or better morale.” In that oversight, these benighted managers “neglect the whole eupsychian growth and self-actualization and personal development side of the enlightened enterprise” (49).
Under such unenlightened management, a society or organization is “split up, more disassociated, less bound together, less tied together, less integrative” (259). In these organizations, “the person who seeks power is the one who is just exactly likely to be the one who shouldn’t have it,” because such an individual “neurotically and compulsively needs power.” Not surprisingly, such managers often use power badly: for “overcoming, overpowering, hurting people,” or “for their own selfish gratifications, conscious and unconscious, neurotic as well as healthy” (155).
The person to give power to, Maslow concludes, “is the one who doesn’t enjoy power” (155). The best managers “increase the health of the workers whom they manage” (through gratification of basic needs as well as metaneeds for goodness, justice, and law), because they are “psychologically healthier people than poor managers” (94-95).
What, you may wonder, does Maslow suggest that people do who suffer under unenlightened leadership, who feel underpaid, undervalued, and who are insulted “by being treated as an interchangeable part, as simply a cog in a machine”?
“There is no other human, reasonable, intelligible way to respond to this kind of profound cutting off of half of one’s growth possibilities,” argues Maslow, than by “getting angry or resentful or struggling to get out of the situation” in which one is “being exploited or dominated or treated in an undignified way” (62).
How would managers and bosses feel, asks Maslow, if they were put into similar situations where “they weren’t treated as persons, in which their names weren’t known?” He answers: these “very same bosses put into similar situations would start a revolution” almost immediately (63).