By Cheryl Bachelder

A Popeye’s employee sent me an email recently. He said he had been working on a school project with his daughter on the Maslow theory of human needs. He wondered if I had considered how this theory applies to the workplace and to servant leadership.

A little background for you…In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a theory of how human beings reach their full potential in life. He concluded that we have a hierarchy of needs that must be met in order for us to become the people we were intended to be. The theory has both fans and opponents, but it is a useful construct for the workplace.

My response to the email was as follows:

If leaders created workplaces that met the needs of people, the people would be more engaged in their work and they would perform at a higher level.

I have been thinking about how this theory can apply to both traditional and virtual workplaces.

A great leader must create the environment which will best unlock the potential in their team and must always be asking themselves, “What are the needs of my employees?” Though the answer to this question will vary from workplace to workplace, there are certainly some needs that all employees share. Among these are security, support, potential for growth, and positive re-enforcement, all of which can be given to team members that work locally or virtually.

In the traditional office, leaders can encourage upwards growth in their employees by creating a positive work atmosphere and good rapport among team members. In the virtual sphere, communication is key. Because team members may be working a variety of hours from different locations, they must feel first and foremost that they have an open line of communication and feel comfortable reaching out to leaders and co-workers despite the lack of face time.

There are also other, more personal needs that may need to be met (both in person and virtually) in order for individual employees to flourish. For example, one employee may need a significant of emotional attention from the leadership of the company. He needs to feel like the leaders sincerely care about his personal life before pledging absolute loyalty to the team. Such a team member may seem needy at first, but will often end up being among the most dedicated and hard-working employees once his basic needs are met.

Another team member may simply need space. By giving this employee more creative agency over her work, she will feel trusted and valued. Unlike the previous example, such an employee may prefer not to share anything about her personal life, preferring privacy and space. Being able to assess employee’s needs is no easy task, but your organization depends on it.

Leaders in and out of the office and in all contexts can take a valuable lesson from Maslow—learn what your employees basic needs are, and try your best to fulfill them. Doing this will help set a solid foundation upon which they can build a strong future.

The success of your business lies in people –and the actions you take to bring out their best.

About the Author
CherylCheryl Bachelder is the CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen Inc., a multibillion-dollar chain of more than 2,200 restaurants around the world. She has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and was recently named by CNBC’s Jim Cramer as one of his “21 Bankable CEOs” for 2014. She is also the author of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results While Serving Others. Visit Cheryl’s site for Leadership Tools, Discussion Guides, and other free resources.

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