Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that to reach your full potential (“self-actualization”), you first need to satisfy your basic material and psychological needs: physiological (e.g., food, water), safety (e.g., shelter, physical security), belonging (e.g., love, supportive relationships), and self-esteem.
According to Maslow, you can’t reach self-actualization unless these basic needs are met.
For instance, if you live in a violent environment your need for safety is unmet. Or if you’re dealing with a turbulent personal relationship, your need for belonging and love is impacted.
Although Maslow’s hierarchy has been criticized as simplistic and culturally biased, it can still be a helpful lens to understand a person’s performance.
For example, if you see someone underperforming, you might ask yourself:
- Are their basic needs being met?
- Do they feel safe, physically and psychologically?
- Do they have supportive and caring people in their lives?
- What is their level of self-esteem?
Similarly, if someone is fulfilling their potential, they likely have their basic material and psychological needs covered.
Maslow’s hierarchy won’t explain every case of underperformance.
But like any framework or model, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.