The Concept of Self-Actualization

Let’s let Maslow help us with this question of leadership traits. Maslow picked out a group of people whom he felt clearly met the standard of what he called self-actualized.  Included in this group were Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Benedict Spinoza, and Alduous Huxley, plus 12 unnamed people who were alive at the time Maslow did his research. He developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of these people.

  • These people could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine.
  • They treated life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to.
  • They felt that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means–the journey was often more important than the destination.
  • They enjoyed solitude, were comfortable being alone, enjoyed deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people.
  • They enjoyed autonomy and were not susceptible to social pressure to be well adjusted or to fit in.
  • They preferred to joke at their own expense or at the human condition instead of directing their humor at others.
  • They had a quality he called acceptance of self and others.   This same acceptance applied to their attitudes towards themselves.
  • They enjoyed their personal quirks if they were not harmful and they were motivated to change negative qualities in themselves that could be changed.
  • They preferred being themselves rather than being pretentious or artificial.
  • They had a sense of humility and respect towards others, were open to ethnic and individual variety, even treasuring it.
  • They had a quality Maslow called human kinship accompanied by strong ethics, which was spiritual but seldom conventionally religious in nature.
  • They tended to see ordinary things with wonder and from this were creative, inventive, and original.
  • And, finally, these people tended to have more experiences that made them feel very tiny, or very large, to some extent one with life or nature or God.

These people were not this way all the time so they still had some work to do at their soul level.  For example, while they were not neurotic, some did experience anxiety and guilt and some were absentminded and overly kind and some experienced unexpected moments of ruthlessness, surgical coldness, and loss of humor.

Their values were natural and seemed to flow effortlessly from their personalities.  Maslow also defined self-actualizers by identifying their needs in order to be happy.  Here is his list.

  1. Truth,
  2. Goodness
  3. Beauty
  4. Unity
  5. Aliveness
  6. Uniqueness
  7. Perfection and necessity
  8. Completion
  9. Justice and order
  10. Simplicity.
  11. Richness
  12. Effortlessness
  13. Playfulness
  14. Self-sufficiency
  15. Meaningfulness

Maslow believes that much of the what is wrong with the world comes down to the fact that very few people really are interested in these values — not because they are bad people, but because they haven’t even had their basic needs taken care of and, when forced to live without these values, the self-actualizer develops depression, despair, disgust, alienation, and a degree of cynicism.

I would say that the characteristics of Maslow’s self actualizers would be good characteristics of leaders and I would add that to the extent people had these characteristics, they would be good leaders.