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Leading: Appealing to others’ needs and wants


Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Leaders have the ability to motivate others to perform. They understand that human behavior is driven by needs like shelter, food and clothing. Once these needs are fulfilled, people extend their needs to wants and desires. If leaders understand that others’ actions are driven by personal needs, wants and desires, they can be more successful in leading them to desirable behavior.

A classic example is a teacher encouraging their students to participate in class. If children know that there will be a reward when they answer a question correctly, they are more likely to contribute to the discussion. Teachers therefore discover what their students desire and what motivates them. If one child responds well to candy, while another responds better to stickers, the teacher can modify the reward to best suit the different children.

Just as teachers learn what motivates their students, leaders in the workplace must know what motivates their team. Effective leaders know which needs and wants motivate their team members and encourage these individuals to perform by appealing to those needs and wants.

Consider a resident physician on a 24-hour shift. During that time, the resident may become overwhelmed by patient flow and be unable to find time for lunch or dinner. An attending physician (the boss) that orders food for their team is adored by appealing to the human need for food. The team strives to work harder to impress the attending physician who rewards their hard work with a meal.

The attending physician can extrapolate this concept further by assessing each resident’s personality traits and wants. For example, one resident may desire verbal recognition in front of colleagues whereas another resident may prefer a personal email documenting how well he or she is performing. Leaders are most effective when they modify their interactions to appeal to the personalities, wants, needs and desires of their team members.

The irony is that when a leader appeals to an individual’s needs and wants they get an extra benefit – the individual starts to subconsciously desire the leader’s approval. This creates an additional motivation for the person to perform.

Appealing to others’ needs and wants is a skill that is obvious but sometimes overlooked. If you have a task that requires the support of others, make them want to accomplish it too. Ultimately, your attention to their needs and wants will motivate them to work hard for you.

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