Edward Hoffman Ph.D.

The Peak Experience

Maslow and Enlightened Management

Abraham Maslow's view of true leadership

Posted Sep 08, 2011

    For more than 25 years, organizational psychology and managerial development have been dominated by passing fads. Reflecting our American emphasis on what philosopher-founding psychologist William James called pragmatism, the focus has typically been on "new" techniques, applications, and interventions. Certainly, this emphasis has not been completely misguided, for innovative technologies in the workplace almost certainly warrant--and even perhaps demand-- new ways of supervising and encouraging workers.

    But it is vital to understand that, from Abraham Maslow's cogent viewpoint, the key is almost never technique or method--but what lies behind it. After leaving Brandeis University for health reasons, Maslow served as a scholar-in-residence at the Saga Corporation based in the San Francisco Bay area. Its executives were keenly interested in humanistic management. In an unpublished essay written in June 1969--only one year before Maslow's sudden death at age 62, he forcefully argued this viewpoint. It can be found in full in his posthumously published book, FUTURE VISIONS (Sage, 1996), which I edited: 

     "It is vital to emphasize that, at bottom, this approach {of enlightened management} is a matter of attitude. An authoritarian person or organization does not ask, listen, or solicit honest feedback. Rather, it tells, orders, or makes pronouncements without obtaining feedback, evaluation, or assessing [participant] satisfaction or gaining any real knowledge of how the system is working. In contrast, the democratic attitude--which arises from a person's character structure and from societal arrangements--involves a profound respect for other people. I might even describe this attitude as one of compassion, or agapean love, or openness to others: a willingness--even an eagerness--to listen. The final consequences of this attitude necessitate a presenting to others of opportunities for true self-choice among real alternatives." 

    And then, Maslow waxed especially poetic. I don't know if any organizational or managerial thinker since has phrased this position so eloquently:

     "So, if you like human beings, if you like to see them grow; if you think they have a highernature that can be cultivated; if you experience real satisfaction from the growth, happiness, and self-actualization of other people; if you enjoy their pleasure; if you feel brotherly or sisterly toward them and share their realm of discourse, then you will almost inevitably create certain kinds of social organizations or systems. In contrast, authoritarian "bosses" reject any sense of kinship with the "bossed," with pawns, and with their supposed inferiors." 

    To what extent can one's attitude toward human beings be modified to become more democratic and less authoritarian? Is such change mainly cognitive or mainly emotional in nature? (Undoubtedly, it involves our ability to trust others). Under what kinds of conditions or events is it likely to occur? Conversely, what types of experiences make people more authoritarian in their workplace or managerial attitudes? Generally, Maslow was skeptical about the reality of lasting instantaneous or quick change, but conceded that it sometimes occurred. But how? As true for Maslow's viewpoint on many aspects of individual, group, and societal well-being, he looked to scientific research as the surest way to unravel this important issue.

copyright by Edward Hoffman, Ph.D.

About the Author

Edward Hoffman, Ph.D., teaches psychology at Yeshiva University.

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