Change Leadership: What ‘need’ is not being met?

I have had the privilege of experiencing some incredible professional learning over the years. One learning I undertook many years ago was around the theories and practices of William Glasser.

William Glasser (1925-2013) was a psychiatrist who worked within the realms of addiction, counselling, choice theory and quality schools.

One particular aspect of Choice Theory was around 5 basic needs. These needs are:

  • survival,
  • love and belonging,
  • power,
  • freedom, and
  • fun

Glasser states that we require each need at differing levels. This is dependent on a mix of our genetics and environment. 

When it comes to leadership, Glasser’s work has high significance. Often we see people display what we might label as ‘unhelpful’ behaviour; both towards themselves and others. Glasser’s belief is that they are trying to meet one of their 5 basic needs. 

As an example, someone who wants to be able to make decisions around the HOW of their practice/work, rather than have to follow a prescribed approach, may have a high need for Freedom. 

Furthermore, someone who may ‘dig their toes-in’ and refuse to do something may be displaying a need for Power.

Also, when building and leading teams, the need to foster a sense of ‘Belonging’ is important. Within his book “Lost Connections”, Johann Hari proposes nine causes of depression. The second cause he speaks about is “Disconnection from other people”. He cites research that found that 

“Feeling lonely, it turned out, caused your cortisol levels to absolutely soar—as much as some of the most disturbing things that can ever happen to you. Becoming acutely lonely, the experiment found, was as stressful as experiencing a physical attack”.

This is profound! When building and leading teams we need to be considering how we are fostering a sense of Belonging. Furthermore, with this knowledge, how might we look differently at those people we might label as ‘needy’ or ‘social-butterflies’?

So, instead of getting annoyed or confused by people’s responses and actions, let’s look at those we lead and ask the questions:

“What is it that you need?”

“What can you do differently to meet this need?”

“What do you need support with?”


In the end, we cannot change anyone. The most powerful thing we can do is change how we think, perceive others and behave – that in itself will have a ripple-effect towards those around us.

So let’s take a different perspective towards those we lead this week – a 5 basic needs perspective.


Hari, Johann. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions (p. 74). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 




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