The other day I was asked to give a presentation on my philosophy on leadership. I’ve been managing people and projects for quite some time and have a track record producing results, so naturally I thought this would be a great opportunity. “Heck,” I said to myself, “I’ve made some great hires and coached a lot of people to be top producers. This should be a cinch.” Shortly after accepting, I quickly began to jot down my ideas that would be relevant to the topic at hand and that I could use to form my presentation outline.

After about a week and half, I had a few pages of notes with all kinds of ideas and thoughts of what makes a leader successful. My early notes centered around integrity and honesty. The golden rule of “treating others as you wish to be treated” is something that is ingrained in me thanks to my parents. My notes went on to discuss areas such as vision and strategy. However, I was quick to point to examples of leaders that are successful without these qualities. Something that I still find hard to believe can be achieved even after citing examples. My notes went on with qualities such as assertiveness, confidence, fairness, compassion, creativity, passion, dedication, commitment, discipline, initiative, drive, focus, communication, competence, courage, humility, good listener, problem solver, relationships, people person, vision, strategist, evangelist… and the list goes on.

While I think these are all great qualities that describe successful leaders, I had a hard time focusing on the qualities that really describe my overall philosophy. In fact, I think a lot of leaders bounce around or blend these qualities together. Heck, I know I do. Some leaders might even have fewer qualities than others and be just as successful. What I really wanted to communicate to my audience was something that was more foundational. Something with more substance and that really guides my leadership.

This led me back to the basics of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Enneagram. Now I know what you’re thinking, “What is he talking about?” This was the same reaction that I received from my friends after I socialized these two topics with them. But as I kept digging and pitching my leadership philosophy with others, I became more and more convinced that this was the right direction for my presentation.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


A pyramid interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist best known for “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Most people don’t know, but he spent a considerable amount of time studying inside companies to see if his theory of Self-Actualization for a person could apply to a company, and in a sense apply to the art of management.

I studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in college psychology class, as well as in a few marketing classes. It’s something that I’ve always carried in the back of my mind throughout my career, but never really considered, “What does Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs say?”

It wasn’t until I read Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow by Chip Conley, CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels, in 2008, that I had my “Aha!” moment. Chip’s break down of the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs and how he applied it to his company in a tough economy was visionary and impacted me in a positive way. In his book, he describes self-actualization as being in the “zone” or having a “peak experience.” This isn’t a new idea; it’s been well documented that many athletes talk about entering the zone and is attributed to heightened states of consciousness during a game. However, to apply the zone to a non-athlete’s job, as Chip Conley discusses, is very much a new concept and, in some aspects, much more complex.

Looking back, this shouldn’t have been a big surprise. I can remember being in the zone when I was designing the world’s first CRM Cloud user interface or coding the next generation web application for Salesforce.com. There were times that I got lost in my work for days at a time, but it would only seem to be a few hours. Not to mention it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. So much that I couldn’t wait to get back into the zone. I’m sure you can recall a similar experience in your life or career.

My simplified Employee Pyramid with base motivation at the bottom and self-actualization at the top

My simplified Employee Pyramid with base
motivation at the bottom and self-actualization at the top

Now let’s tie this back to leadership. Imagine having a few or all of your employees in the zone everyday. Imagine not only the enjoyment that your employee would encounter in their job, but the innovation and productive gains your company would benefit from as a by-product. This is why I use a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs inspired employee pyramid, much like what Chip Conley describes in his book, to determine where my employees are on the pyramid. Understanding what motivates your employees and where they are within that motivation hierarchy will give you deeper insight into how you can accel them up the pyramid and closer to self-actualization. Not everyone will reach self-actualization, but as leaders it’s our duty to help guide our employees to the top of the pyramid.


An Enneagram diagram with the 9 personality types

An Enneagram diagram with the 9 personality types

I was first introduced to the Enneagram by my father-in-law after dinner one night when courting my now wife. During dinner, the subject came up, but I couldn’t keep pace with the all the lingo, 5w9 wing, Blind Spots, or Arrows and Subtypes. It was all foreign to me. When leaving, he presented me with a stack of papers and said, “I’d like to know what your type is when you come back.” The cover title on the stack of papers read “RHETI Enneagram Type Indicator Test.” The following day, I sat down to take the test and after completing the first page in 30 minutes, I threw out the test. I told my wife that I didn’t have time for this. The next time I saw my father-in-law he asked me what number I was. When I told him I threw out the test he looked puzzled as he tried to figure out what Enneagram number would do that.

Needless to say, I found a free online test and completed it in 20 minutes. As I read the description of my Enneagram number, I couldn’t believe how precisely it described me, almost to a tee. Thus began my infatuation with the Enneagram. As I read more books and articles on the subject, I noticed that I developed a deeper awareness of myself and how I interact with others. As a result, it started deepening my personal relationships with friends and family.

Because of the effect it had on my personal life, I began thinking how it could be used to enhance my work experience. I began to envision that if everyone had the same awareness and could communicate through each others filters effectively it could really enhance not only my work experience, but my co-workers’ too. This led me to a book called, Bringing Out the Best in Yourself at Work: How to Use the Enneagram System for Success by Ginger Lapid-Bogda. The book focuses on how to apply the Enneagram to the work environment as a way to improve productivity and help build positive relationships among your co-workers.

While the Enneagram is an on-going learning experience for me, incorporating Ginger’s methods into my work life has really opened up endless possibilities to communicate and build relationships with my colleagues. Having this deeper understanding of how each person communicates and how to speak the language they want to hear can not only make for incredible productivity gains, but improve your working relationship with others. At the end of the day, isn’t it these relationships that drive productivity and ultimately motivate others?


At the core, leadership and management are about psychology. The way we interact with others, such as our colleagues, peers, manager, direct reports, customers, suppliers, investors, etc. is how leaders are distinguished. Using both Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Enneagram as grounding principles has helped to shape my leadership qualities. Whether you agree or disagree with these, my two foundational leadership concepts I presented here, it’s hard to deny that a deeper understanding of our human nature and innate desires can only help us to achieve our goals while speaking the language that our counterpart can understand, which can help make our world a better place to work, and live.

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