The term ‘American Dream’ was first seen in the 1931 bestseller Epic Of America. It’s the belief that no matter where you’re born, you can always attain your version of success in societies driven by upward mobility. You need to take risks and put in a lot of hard work to achieve success and lead a content life. There’s a promise of freedom and equality as you work to make ends meet and lead an independent and dignified life.

The American Dream can be understood using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model. The dream of a good life and future comes from fulfilling fundamental needs necessary for survival. Wondering what the needs hierarchy is all about? Read on!

  1. Remembering Maslow And His Needs Theory

  2. Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory

  3. Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs: The Pyramid

  4. The Business Application Of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

  5. Maslow’s Need Theory For Team Leaders

Remembering Maslow And His Needs Theory

Abraham Harold Maslow was an American psychologist who developed a needs theory model to explain human motivation. He became one of the pioneers of the humanistic psychology school of thought. He proposed several theories including self-actualization, the hierarchy of needs and peak experiences, all of which became instrumental in the humanist movement. Maslow’s work focused on the positive aspects of psychology, changing the narrative around mental and emotional well-being.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory is one of the best and well-known theories of motivation. He first introduced this concept in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation (1943) and later in his book Motivation and Personality (1954). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that people have several basic needs that need to be met before they move on or pursue other advanced needs—social, emotional and self-actualizing. Maslow shifted focus from pathology and behaviorism to understanding what makes people happy. 

Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory

At its simplest, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory proposes that human motivation is based on different levels of needs. It even suggests that people are motivated to fulfill their needs in a hierarchical order. We start to fulfill the most basic needs and move on to other advanced needs. Self-actualization is the ultimate goal in the process. There are five different levels of needs that can be broadly categorized into deficiency and growth needs.

  • Deficiency Needs: 

It refers to the first three levels of needs that arise due to deprivation. These needs motivate people when they’re unmet. The motivation becomes stronger, the longer they’re denied. When someone fails to meet deficiency needs, it leads to unpleasant or harmful results such as loneliness and self-doubt.

  • Growth or Being Needs: 

It doesn’t stem from the lack of something but rather a desire to grow as an individual. When growth needs are satisfied, you’re likely to reach the ultimate goal, also known as self-actualization. Every individual has the desire and the capacity to move up the hierarchy and reach self-actualization.

When a deficient need gets more or less satisfied, it becomes a salient need. In other words, we direct our focus and energy towards the next set of needs. As foundational needs are met, we tend to engage and prioritize self-actualization needs. However, not everyone moves through the hierarchy in a unidirectional manner. Many moves around as life experiences (e.g., divorce or death) can fluctuate your needs at any point. But the bottom line is that progress gets interrupted when you fail to meet your foundational needs. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs: The Pyramid

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is arranged in a pyramid shape, with the deficient or base needs at the bottom and the growth needs at the top. Someone can move up the pyramid only when the foundational needs are met; motivation continues to be the driving force at every level. Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory has the following five needs.

  1. Physiological Needs

Our most basic need is physical survival, which is why biological needs are more essential than anything else. It includes food, clothing, shelter, sleep and overall health among other things. Once these basic physiological and primary needs are met, you can move on to the other levels in the pyramid.

  1. Safety Needs

Once your basic requirements are met, your needs start to become more complex. At the second level, security, safety and protection become mandatory. People want control over their lives and want to be prepared for any unanticipated risks. Safety needs include emotional stability, protection against crimes and harm, financial security and health security. For example, finding a job or moving to a gated community helps you feel safe and secure.

  1. Love And Belongingness Needs

This is the last of the deficient or basic needs. In this social layer of needs, you relate to human interaction and seek out emotional connections. Such needs include emotional and physical intimacy, friendships and family bonds and even workplace relationships. The need for interpersonal relationships and social contact are effective motivators. This stage is governed by friendship, trust, acceptance and intimacy.

  1. Esteem Needs

This is the starting point for higher-level needs. The key ingredients of this stage are self-esteem and self-respect. The need for appreciation and respect becomes increasingly important as you continue to interact and expand your social networks. You want others to recognize your efforts and feel proud, accomplished and feel worthy. 

The most popular examples of esteem needs include academic achievements, job opportunities and athletic participation. Maslow’s Need Theory divides this stage into two parts—esteem for oneself (e.g., independence) and respect from others (e.g., social prestige).

  1. Self-Actualization Needs

This is the highest level or the end goal in Maslow’s Hierarchy Theory. Self-actualization means becoming the most that one can be. It describes the fulfillment of your true potential as an individual. You’ve accomplished everything that you were aspiring to achieve as you fully utilize your talents, abilities and potential. Self-actualizing people have high levels of self-awareness and don’t pay heed to what others have to say. They have broad goals to achieve and talent to tap into. Self-actualization needs include skill development, education, expanding your knowledge base and skill set.

The Business Application Of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Maslow’s Theory of Motivation or Needs offers a foundation for influencing organizational behavior and development. By implementing the pyramid model, organizations can improve employee satisfaction, employee retention and team-building. Let’s look at the business application of Maslow’s model in the workplace.

  1. Physiological

A steady income is every employee’s first and foremost need. In order to live somewhere, feed yourself and fulfill other essential needs, it’s important that organizations provide employees with fair wages and remuneration.

  1. Safety

A safe work environment is important, especially when it comes to physical and emotional well-being. Organizations should focus on providing the right resources and infrastructure that reduces the risk of injury or any other forms of physical harm. Committees and policies should protect individuals from all forms of harassment and help everyone feel safe.

  1. Love And Belonging

It’s not easy to form interpersonal relationships at work. Organizations host events that allow individuals to interact and engage with each other. Furthermore, employee engagement is a priority in many modern businesses. Additionally, work-life balance should be prioritized as it keeps employees happy and satisfied at work.

  1. Esteem

Employees should feel that they’re learning, growing and advancing in the organization as well as their careers. This is why it’s crucial that organizations recognize the efforts of their employees’ contributions. Feedback loops are an effective way to encourage individuals. Additionally, rewards and monetary incentives can positively impact self-esteem.

  1. Self-Actualization

Organizations should focus on maximizing an individual’s potential if they want to improve workplace productivity and efficiency. Someone who believes in their abilities will feel empowered and is more likely to grow and develop alongside the organization. Individuals should find their work challenging and meaningful to feel that they’re doing their best.

Maslow’s Need Theory For Team Leaders

Successful organizations create workforces that are treated respectfully. Only when every individual feels heard, respected and empowered, will they put their best foot forward. Leaders and managers play a crucial role in empowering individuals to become the best version of themselves. It’s because of their relationship and proximity with the team, they shoulder the responsibility of responding to various needs and expectations. 

Here are some ways in which leaders can look out for their employees and apply Maslow’s Theory of Motivation in business environments.

  • Recognize efforts and good performance

  • Encourage individuals to speak up during team meetings

  • Provide constructive feedback

  • Encourage employee training or skill development programs

  • Understand working and learning styles before assigning projects

  • Delegate responsibilities and avoid micromanaging

  • Ensure comfortable workspace and job security

  • Be transparent and accessible i.e., practice an open-door policy

  • Break the monotony and assign challenging projects to employees

  • Be open to suggestions, ideas and multiple viewpoints


As managers and leaders, you can truly drive your team to success only when you recognize individual and team needs. You create a place where everyone strives to become the best version of themselves. When a team has a purpose and clearly defined goals, they understand how to combine their skills and efforts more efficiently. It’s safe to say that Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Theory is your guiding light when it comes to successful leadership and teamwork.

If you want to learn how to calibrate your work to your team’s goals and expectations, Harappa’s Managing Teamwork has your back! Powerful frameworks and modules taught by a world-class faculty will help you sail through different stages of team formation and growth. The Skill-Will Matrix in particular will help you assess your team’s skills and willingness to perform or do something. Gauge your teams’ needs and confidently lead them to success!

Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics related to the COLLABORATE Habit such as What is TeamworkFunctions of Management, Stages of Strategic Management and Elements of Total Quality Management and manage teams efficiently.

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