Which core needs drive you?

Prague Leaders Magazine, September 2007

Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology, said that all living beings have basic needs that must be fulfilled in order to survive. Building on Maslow’s ideas, world-renowned life coach and motivational speaker Anthony Robbins asserted that we are all driven by a combination of six core needs and that everything we do is aimed at satisfying some combination of these needs.

From years as a professional career coach and my own personal experience, I have learned that one of the best ways to know and understand ourselves is to identify what needs drive us most, and more importantly, to pay close attention to the way we meet these needs in our personal and professional lives.

By understanding and analyzing this fundamental aspect of human nature, we can gain new insights into what it is that really motivates and influences us. In turn, we can be more conscious of how we choose a career, life partner or environment to meet those needs.

Our Six Core Needs

Using Robbins’ six core needs as a benchmark to illustrate this concept, we will now briefly examine each of the six needs and look at the way people generally try to meet them. It should be noted that these six needs can also be closely mapped to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Certainty is the first basic need and is simply about achieving order and control in life. Its chief function is to ensure an element of security and it is manifested in safety and physical comfort. Those of us with a deep need for certainty do our best to avoid chaos and unexpected.

However, the desire for both chaos and uncertainty make variety the second core need we all share. It is a physical and emotional need that encourages us to bring the new, unknown and sometimes disorderly into our lives.

The third need we have is that of significance. It drives us to assert ourselves as individuals, look out for our own interests and put our own ego at the fore. To satisfy this need we find ways to prove our self-worth and can sometimes be judgmental of others.

The need for connection is represented by the human desire to communicate with, relate to and receive love from those around us. We are motivated to share and develop relationships with people to meet this need in our lives.

Through personal development and learning we fulfill the need for growth in our lives. This core need is what impels us to mature and evolve as human beings. Finally, we all share the need for contribution, which is manifested in our desire to serve those around us and give love rather than simply receiving it. Contribution is about sharing what we have with others.

All of us are influenced and motivated by a combination of each of these six needs. The challenge we are confronted with on a daily basis is how to identify which needs are dominant in our lives and what environments, situations and people we function best in and around to meet those needs.

Because these six needs have such an important influence in our decision making process, as a coach, I often have the opportunity to guide people through these career or life changes and help them take a closer look at what really motive them. Having identified their dominant needs, we can create and develop a strategy to ensure those needs will be met in a new environment or future situation.

Professionally or personally, those of us experiencing any kind of transition can benefit greatly by identifying those needs that take precedence in our lives and by using that information to make decisions affecting our future.

Needs in the workplace

Undoubtedly, our needs play an enormous role in how happy, satisfied and fulfilled we are at our jobs. During the coaching process, I support people who are looking to gain more satisfaction out of what they do. One way I try to help them is by ensuring that their core needs are aligned with the job they are doing and if not, I assist them in finding ways to realigning their job and their needs.

For me, the workplace is an ideal environment in which to observe whether our needs are being met or neglected. A satisfying job should inherently present us with an abundance of opportunities to learn and grow, as well as the chance to contribute to something larger than ourselves. Moreover, the social nature of work fulfills our need for connection and relationships. Of course, the workplace is also an environment where people assert their need for significance by engaging in office politics or empire-building.

Managers for example, have a hard time finding a balance between a need of certainty and having enough variety and change in their work to maintain interest and be regularly challenged. The first-time managers I coach are always eager to work hard and get things done, thus fulfilling the need for significance, only to be disappointed by the daily routines of their work and a lack of variety in their jobs.

For someone contemplating a career change or the possibility of increased responsibility in a current position, it is vital to anticipate what expectations need to be fulfilled first and whether a new position or company is going to satisfy those needs or leave them neglected. By looking at the career choices we have made in the past, we can easily see a pattern emerging, based on how a particular job met those needs and expectations.

Needs at home

In our personal lives, our needs again have an influence on the happiness we have with our partners, family and friends. In contrast to the workplace, where we can often be more individualist in satisfying these needs, at home we frequently associate and partner with people whose needs complement our own.

Of course, conflicts between people, both at home and in the workplace are really about the conflicting needs of each person. The drive to meet our own personal needs can be powerful enough to break down relationships and drive people apart.

For that reason, the necessity of choosing a partner or a friend based on both our own and their core needs is vital for personal happiness and a successful, fulfilling relationship. To meet our needs in a relationship, we can use the same principles as we would in our professional lives: Determine which needs a potential or current partner satisfies, and vice versa. By doing this exercise and talking about it with our partners, we not only learn more about ourselves, but can also use this mutual understanding to help ease some of the tensions cause by conflicting needs.

Having worked as a business coach for 10 years, I have learned that the most satisfied people, personally and professionally, have achieved happiness by ensuring that their job, relationships and/or environment satisfies their core needs. They have discovered that by focusing on their needs, rather than their wants (as is the case with the majority of people), they will achieve far more satisfaction out of life. Moreover, by identifying and understanding our core needs, we can better know who we are and what motivates us.

Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.