Maslow on Management

111June Book Review:
By Abraham Maslow
John Wiley & Sons, 1998
Review by Dr. Alice Waagen

On the anniversary of Abraham Maslow’s death (June 8, 1970), I revisited his classic book, Maslow on Management.

I return to it periodically because this transcription of the journals he kept while touring a factory in southern California in 1960, provides us with a unique view of management that applies today.

Best known for his theory of human motivation, centered on self-actualization and the phrase “hierarchy of needs,” Maslow maintained that the basic human drive is for self-actualization, and the need to fulfill one’s full potential. He was a master of the science of psychology, who broke from the early traditions of Freud and the behaviorists to devote his life to research into positive psychology.

Known as the father of humanistic psychology, Maslow saw value in advancing the understanding of what motivates and satisfies people, as opposed to the study of neuroses. He proposed an enlightened set of theories about man as a healthy being striving to achieve full potential. Drucker, McGregor, Argyris, Likert and other writers on business and management have openly attested to the powerful influence Maslow had on their thinking.

Maslow’s unique contribution, and the reason I return to this book over and over, is that he views the job of a manager much more broadly than simply assigning tasks and monitoring results. He believed that every worker needs to be committed to important and worthwhile work as the path to happiness and fulfillment or self actualization. He saw it as a manager’s critical responsibility to help individuals reach their full potential, which would then result in better, healthier workplaces and communities, and would benefit society, in general.

Reading Maslow in light of the horrendous errors in leadership shown by Enron, WorldCom, and now British Petroleum, we see that the workplace is not just an isolated environment, but one that affects the community it serves, both locally and globally. Maslow’s focus on humanistic management and the role, indeed the responsibility, of management to address an employee’s full potential and self worth through meaningful work has huge implications.

I only wish that Maslow, who died on June 8, 1970, could comment on the business world today and how management is fulfilling the assignment of guiding staff to meaningful and rewarding work. One can only imagine what he’d suggest.