Moving on to recognition (trust, respect, success, reputation, etc.). And finally culminating (at the top of the pyramid) in self-fulfilment, comprising spiritual and moral development, connection with life purpose or selfless help to others.
Maslow’s summary may well remain valid for the general population, but applied to project leadership of any kind, it should be completely revised.
In some ways, mainstream leadership to date has followed this progression. Great managers, entrepreneurs or politicians developed their project by prioritising its survival, then ensuring the best possible profitability, creating a broad organisation, being recognised and, finally, if they were successful, they dedicated themselves to self-realisation. In this last phase, they had the need to feel like good persons and to fulfil themselves in a purpose of positive transcendence towards others. It is common for these successful people to devote part of their resources (time and money) to charitable causes. In even more prominent cases, many go so far as to create a foundation. The usual motto is “to give back to society part of what it gave them”.
But this should be understood as a completely outdated model for a good leader. The challenges facing the planet are so important, critical and urgent that we cannot allow the leaders of any minimally significant project in any area of activity to move forward always prioritising their own particular and short-term interests. And only when they are successful will they apply a principle of responsibility, solidarity and sustainability towards society and the environment.
The model is wrong for two main reasons: 1) Because it is not worth evolving one’s own business at the cost of a negative impact on the environment, and trying to “pay back” or “reverse” that impact at the end of a trajectory. There is no time, and the damage done during the process can never be compensated. And 2), because the vast majority of projects do not culminate in the success that allows to reach the stage of self-fulfilment and seek to help others or the environment; and in these cases, we are left with all the damage created along the way.
In the paradigm of the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, sustainability should not be an end point or a trigger point when everything is going well. Sustainability must be at the starting point of any activity. A good leader cannot afford not to take this key parameter into account throughout his process and evolution towards the success of his project. If he ignores this positive impact, he is, by definition, an incomplete, mediocre or outright bad leader, because he does not take into account what is essential for the prosperity and quality of society and the environment in the present and in the future.
We are not interested in some millionaires or socially or professionally successful people who in their final phase are dedicated to soothing their conscience and being comfortable with their image by doing good for humanity. Of course, it is better that they do so, but they should not be the role model. We are interested in many project leaders who put the values of a minimally sustainable world for all in the future as the basic starting point, limit and commitment in everything they do in their project.
A sustainable leader must pursue the success of his project, but he should always ask himself what he is and is not entitled to do, and what the planet requires of him and his project if we want to continue to live minimally well here, in our home, on Earth.