A Motivated Team: Are you Maslow or Machiavelli?

Managers and organizations have diverse philosophies about how to motivate employees and manage teams. Some seek to create cooperation and loyalty. Others rely more on the competitive spirit to get things done. And the truth is different approaches can work, but it’s important to understand what kind of work environment you’re creating with your approach. So the question is: Are you more Maslow or Machiavelli.
These two paradigms are familiar to many, but they represent extremely different ways of managing people. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that people have certain requirements that have to be met before they can be truly fulfilled. In the workplace, this theory demands attending to the needs of each employee. Making enough money to live, job security, belonging to a team, excelling at a job, and doing meaningful work are all motivating factors. The idea is that if employees are happy at work, they’ll be more creative and produce more. The Machiavellian style is very different. It states that it is better to be feared than loved. Rules are strict and punishments are harsh. Employees are motivated by fear of losing their jobs, but also by the urge to beat the competition. It produces a program of survival of the fittest that attracts people who can think on their feet and get the job done regardless of circumstances. And it’s an efficient way of shedding dead weight (read; nonperforming staff)
We all know of instances where both styles are used and have seen glimpses in development and business worlds where productivity means survival. You’re either rising or falling and every coworker is vying for the same promotion you are. These organizations or business entities have impressive balance sheets of their own and it’s obvious why the best and brightest would embrace a chance to shoot for the stars. Maslow’s approach is great for building team unity, loyalty, and stability. But it’s susceptible to employee complacency and cliché, in-the-box thinking. A Machiavellian regime can be very effective to push employees to great heights of creativity and production at an individual level. But know they’re only on board as long as your goals are aligned with theirs.

So which way is better? That depends on your goals. Maslow’s approach is much better at promoting strong teams. This is important if your organization or business relies on a great deal of cooperation. It also gives you a chance to groom future leaders who you expect to stick around for the long haul. The Machiavellian way is effective where individual performance is key. Employees may not work cooperatively but they can learn by seeing how others succeed … or fail.


  1. Just because you are Maslow or Machiavellian, does not mean you can not be the other.


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