Episode 1

#001 - Leading in a Crisis: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Published on: 19th August, 2020

Super excited to talk to Charles about leading in times of uncertainty. We discuss Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, how the framework applies to everyday leadership situations, and practical ways to adapt your style during a crisis.


Robert Greiner 0:01

Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast. In today's episode, Charles and I discuss Maslow's hierarchy of needs and how we can use it as a lens for leading in times of crisis. As usual, we focus heavily on the people side and the leadership equation, which we agree is especially important in an after COVID world. Thanks for joining us today. And we look forward to continuing the conversation on your social media platform of choice. 99% of the time of our careers working together, we focus all of our energy, add belongingness and above at the psychological needs level. And we talk a lot about self actualization, and what that looks like and how that's different for different people. We certainly address esteem needs, and really our our floor in in good times is belongingness, it's very difficult to have a work related conversation about a deliverable, or about someone's career, when they don't know where they're going to be living next week, or their parents have COVID, or their kids are starting school, and they're not quite sure what decision to make, you know, remote or in person and what the implications of that are. And so, what I want to talk to you about today is the reality of this new floor, which is down to the basic needs, and then what we can do as leaders to help our teams, our people, our organization.

Charles Knight 1:28

Yeah, I think you're right. I mean, that's the privilege of kind of most, most of Western society, if you've got a job, right, your your lower basic needs are met. I think the crisis shows that we're all susceptible to being pushed down this hierarchy into the basic needs. And when I think about the responsibility of a leader, during a crisis, it's to, you know, recognize that there's, there's going to be this rapid cycling, up and down this hierarchy. But there's just volatility that comes along with a crisis, where if you talk to somebody last week, and they're good, right, and they're able to focus on a deliverable, or a project or some sort of outcome, it doesn't mean the next week they will, right, because things are changing so rapidly. And there's so much uncertainty out there. So I think part of what came to mind, those who were showing me this is that, as leaders, we have to recognize that people's basic needs will get challenged, right? It's not a question of if it will, and it will. And we have to start by, with every touchpoint assessing what they need, right in that moment. And so the the nature of my one on ones have changed. And the nature of my kind of check ins with myself have changed to like, because as a leader, I have to assess, okay, where am I in this in this hierarchy as well? Because if I'm dealing with, oh my gosh, how do I keep my kids safe? When thinking about going back to school, I'm not in the right headspace and heart space to think about and address others needs as well. And so, yeah, I think this is very relevant. And, you know, some other time, we could talk about some personal situations where I was pushed way down low in crisis, and had to rely upon others to kind of help me get back up. But that's what I think about as a leader, right? It's like, what have I learned? having gone through crisis that I can share with others?

Robert Greiner 3:56

What is what are some, you know, tactical things that you do when you kick off your one on one with someone just sort of gauge their, kind of where they're at and see where that will affect them?

Charles Knight 4:08

Yeah. That's good. Two things. One, I think the there's regularly scheduled one on ones, and then there's ad hoc kind of check ins. I think the, because in crisis, I think you have to ramp up the frequency of interaction, right to dress to be able to adapt to the kind of the rapidly changing needs of your team. But I really, really pay attention to tone of voice, right, the first words that come out of people's mouths when we chat. Really, really tell a lot and that is what I think in a pre-crisis mode. It's really easy to just kind of, you know, chit chat, hey, how things going, what's going on? What are you up to? And and then kind of get into the groove of dialing into what is being discussed right now, dialing into that nonverbal communication. Here, I think I've been really trying to hone in on what is the first thing that they say, what is their tone of voice saying? And that tells me a lot. That tells me if, if I need to completely drop my agenda, and just ask questions. Or if I need to follow their lead. It's hard to say because it's so individual. But I think if you really pay attention to the first things that are said, it can inform how you ask questions, and you kind of show up in that one on one.

Robert Greiner 5:59

Yeah, I really like that for two reasons. One, it's practical, right? You can, you can have a little checklist, you can have it up on your screen, you can have it written down. And just like, hey, though, pay close attention to the first words, that also helps you be present in the moment, which I think is a really good thing for us to do during times of crisis, especially. And also though, this presupposes that you know, your team's well, you know, the humans that you work with well, and you can sense when something's up, you have a baseline. Yeah. And so one thing I want to talk to you a lot about, as we go on is this idea of almost like crisis, inoculation, right? What are the things as a leader you should be doing before the next crisis, right? We'll get through this thing, pandemics and, you know, economic cycles, rebound. The future's bright. What are things when we're in the next expansion? When times are good? What can we be doing as leaders to help prepare for the next crisis? And one of those is absolutely what you outlined, which is getting to know your people really, really well. So that you know, when something's up, and that will help in good times, too. But especially now, when like you said, basic needs are threatened. You have an early warning system built into your spidey sense, which will help you support your team, which I really liked that. So. Yeah, that's good. Um, one thing I found is, a lot of times I'll ask, I don't make a habit of doing it every time. But in my last sort of group discussion with my mentor tree, I just said, Hey, on zoom, everybody, react, use the thumbs up reaction, if your physical needs are being met, like, do you have everything that you need? And, you know, I had this sort of Brady Bunch of you on there, and I saw all the everyone said that their needs are being met. And so I felt like, hey, in that moment, things are good for now. There's nothing actionable needed by me. And then every now and then, on one on ones, especially when I do I try to spend some of them outside walking in and encourage others to, get up and get active in movement kind of encourages the physical needs, right, getting movement. And also, it's a little bit more informality or concern. Okay, I'm just calling I really want to just check in with you right now, is everything going well, and I had a, sort of the initial feeling of the conversation, this was three weeks ago was everything, everything's good. The first few words were, were positive. And when I kind of said, hey, I just want to check in on you, how are you doing? It's like, actually, things are really tough right now. Like, I've been burning the candle at both ends, my basement flooded, you know, I'm dealing with that. And, you know, this, just there was a sort of this outpour of, of personal and professional concern that was not obvious at the beginning. And so I think sometimes people will tell you, if you ask.

Charles Knight 9:07

Yeah, I think that's a good point that it's worth asking again, because if you continue to ask you'll, you'll get different answers. And one of the things that reminds me that I do in every one on one now is I ask, When are you going on vacation next? right because there's naturally there's just a depression and the willingness and desire to take vacations especially because there's limited travel and yet there's still benefit even if you stay home and disconnect and so every one on one, I asked that question, it's like, you know, when have you gone on vacation? When are you planning to go again? And oftentimes through that you can help the person identify that they might have some more basic needs that need to be met. That would be better served by taking time off. So I really like that as a very tactical kind of practical question.

Robert Greiner:

That's it for our first episode. Thanks for joining us on the Wanna Grab Coffee podcast and we'll see you next time. Have a good one.

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A podcast about all of the topics we discuss during our mid-day coffee breaks. We bring you stories, thoughts, and ideas around life as a professional, leadership concepts, and work/life balance. We view career and leadership development as a practice that spans decades and we are excited to go on this journey with you.