As Chip Conley explains in the Preface, "This book is about the miracle of human potential: employees living up to their full potential in the workplace, customers feeling the potential bliss associated with having their unrecognized needs met, and investors feeling fulfilled by seeing the potential of their capital leveraged." I agree with him that all great leaders know how to tap into this "potential" and actualize it into reality." Moreover, I also agree with Conley that great leadership can - and should - be found at all levels and in all areas of an organization. So, what motivations do people need to achieve peak performance, especially in collaboration with others? In this volume, Conley responds to that question, suggesting that there are many valuable lessons to be learned from Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs." For present purposes, it can be abbreviated as follows:
With regard to the first two, I am reminded of a time when Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered a lecture on transcendentalism in Concord (MA) and then agreed to answer questions. A farmer stood up: "Mr. Emerson, how do you transcend an empty stomach?"
Maslow believed that the hierarchy of human needs is best understood when viewed as a triangle, with basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) at the base. As those needs are at least partially fulfilled, we ascend the pyramid to higher needs (e.g. security, stability, social connections, affiliations), fulfilling them along the way. As Conley explains, "At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, a place where people have transient moments called `peak experiences'...A peak experience -- comparable to being `in the zone' or in the `flow' - is when ought to be just is." Or as Maslow himself suggests, "They are moments of ecstasy which cannot be bought, cannot be guaranteed, cannot even be sought...but one can set up the conditions so that peak experiences are more likely, or one can perversely set up the conditions so that they are less likely." However, as the Concord farmer reminds us, basic needs must first be filled. That is as true of individuals (who fear being terminated) as it is of a company's owners (who may have no choice but to file for Chapter 7).
In this volume, Conley offers a step-by-step process by which to build a great company. After acknowledging Maslow's influence on his thinking (and in process explaining Mallow's core concepts) in Part One (Chapters 1-3), he examines three "relationship truths." In Chapters 4-6, he explains how to create base motivation, loyalty, and trust for employees. In Chapters 7-9, he explains how to create satisfaction, commitment, and "evangelistic" fervor for customers. And then in Chapters 10-12, he explains how to create trust, confidence, and pride of ownership for investors. In Part Five (Chapters 13 and 14), Conley explains how to coordinate the three separate but interrelated "relationship truths" to create a "self-actualized life" for each of those involved. Although that may prove to be an unrealistic goal, it is worthy of pursuit nonetheless. Whereas a mountain has a finite height, Maslow's pyramid does not. No individual and no organization can ever become fully actualized. There will always be room for improvement because achieving one goal creates opportunities to achieve others. Revealingly, Conley describes himself as a Himalayan Sherpa who guides his reader to up to the summits of Nepal or Tibet. What he implies is that his role has another, in my view more important function: To guide his readers to insights that will enable her or him to chart a proper course when embarked on a never-ending journey from one peak performance to the next.
This is also true of a company whose culture that must constantly adjust to both internal changes (e.g. its workforce) and external changes (e.g. in its competitive marketplace) while in pursuit of greatness. Consider these comments John Kotter and James Heskett share in Corporate Culture and Performance that suggest a causal relationship between a strong culture and peak performance: "Corporate culture can have a significant impact on a firm's long-term economic performance. We found that firms with cultures that emphasized all the key managerial constituencies (customers, stockholders, and employees) and leadership from managers at all levels outperformed firms that did not have those cultural traits by a huge margin. Over an eleven-year period, the former increased revenues by an average of 682 percent versus 166 percent for the latter, expanded their work forces by 282 percent versus 36 percent, grew their stock prices by 901 percent versus 74 percent, and improved their net incomes by 756 percent versus 1 percent." My guess (only a guess) is that in all of the peak performance companies, the words "culture" and "character" are synonymous.
It is no coincidence that, year after year, many of the same companies on Fortune magazine's list of those that are "Most Highly Admired" are also among those most profitable. However, as we all soon learn once embarked on a business career, there is a "bottom line" to an individual's personal character as well as to an organization's financial performance. Maslow suggests that when reaching the summit of self-actualization, there is a recognition that "this is the real me." Bill George calls this one's "True North," "the internal compass that guides you as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point - your fixed point in a spinning world - that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership."
Self-actualization awaits each person who reads this book. Let the journey begin. Bon voyage!