This fourth article in the series further explores the what, why, and how of the Five Driving Needs framework.

Belonging. Security. Freedom. Significance. Meaning.

These needs are universal and personal.

Nature hard wires us with innate needs like belonging and security. They’re vital to the well-being of every person born regardless of their ethnicity, era or postal code. In this way, our needs are universal – hardwired.

But our nurture imprints each of us with a unique need mix. That is, we each prize certain needs far more than others. This happens in two ways:

a) Some needs are thwarted. Example? If our need for belonging went unmet in our home environment, it became disproportionately important to us as adults. Job #1 in any situation became, “How do I get accepted here? What do I have to do to be included in this tribe?”

b) Some needs are pre-eminently valued. Consider. If the need for security was given the highest priority by our parents or our culture, it can overrule the others for the rest of our life – driving us to avoid ambiguity and seek out predictability and clarity in every situation.

All humanity is hardwired for all five needs but some people need certain ones more than anything else, because their environment deprived them of it or prized it above all else. So, when you think of needs, think universal and individual, nature and nurture.

These needs are constant and dynamic.

At an elemental level, we always need belonging, security, freedom, significance and meaning. In this way our needs are constant, static.

But our needs can also be surprisingly dynamic.

We at Juice Inc. have taken thousands of people through our Five Driving Needs framework. In it, they discover the needs that matter most to them at work. It is common for us to be invited back to deliver again – in situations where there has been a re-org or a merger. In this situation, up to half of the room may be going through the Five Driving Needs framework for the second time.

Alumni frequently tell us that their needs have changed – sometimes drastically – in the 6-12 month interim. A person’s current context can change their needs considerably.

For example, we had a director whose division was beginning to enjoy an exhilarating growth curve. The need that mattered most to her at that time was significance.

Within 6 months her company went through a nasty re-org and she inherited a troubled part of the organization. She still needed significance, but the need that trumped all others was security.

Need pursuit and need fulfillment both matter.

Think of a goal you’ve achieved. You experienced energy as you anticipated and pursued that goal. You also experienced energy when you achieved it. The same is true of driving needs – energy flows in both the pursuit and the fulfilment of a need.

When you need something but don’t yet have it, inner tension is produced, the tension of yearning, motivation and desire. These are the powerful energies of hope required to overcome setbacks and apply grit on the journey to need fulfillment.

As soon as your need is attained, the energy of hope dissipates (it’s no longer required) and a different kind of energy flows – the energy of fulfillment. You experience the thrill of completion, the buzz of achievement and the pride of accomplishment – the powerful energies of progress required to take on the next challenge.

Our needs are not wants.

Driving needs differ greatly from wants.

  • I want my input to be acted upon. I need belonging.
  • I want to be in control. I need security.
  • I want to take risks. I need freedom.
  • I want status. I need significance.
  • I want the ideal. I need meaning.

Imagine that none of your child’s wants are being met, but all of her needs are being met for an entire week. She feels a sense of belonging, security, freedom, significance and meaning but no candy, no new iPhone and no new video games. Disappointing but not damaging.

Driving needs are different in this way - when they are thwarted, damage and ill-being ensue. Imagine your child getting all of her wants met but none of her needs. There is a name for the damage that ensues from this kind of situation: she is spoiled.

Need-meeting is an organizing principle.

Our needs aren’t the only things that energize us. We are also energized by things like passions and values and goals.

But our needs make sense of and are an access point to help us understand other energy sources – some of which are invisible and tacit. (like identity) Each of these things energizes us because they promise the reward of a met need.

  • Our Passions – Why do our passions energize us? Because they promise the reward of met needs. The marathoner trains in rain, snow and sleet because it meets her need for growth, achievement and feeling respected.
  • Our Values – Why do our values energize us? Because they promise the reward of met needs. The hard worker offers her discretionary effort because that fulfills her need to contribute and feel productive.
  • Our Goals – Why do goals energize us? Because they promise the reward of met needs. The anticipation of attaining a development goal fulfills your need for significance.

“A full understanding not only of goal-directed behavior, but also of psychological development and well-being, cannot be achieved without addressing the needs that give goals their psychological potency and that influence which regulatory processes direct people’s goal pursuits. (Deci and Ryan, 2000. p. 228)

  • Our Identity – Why does our identity energize us? Because it promises the reward of a met need. Seeing yourself as a philanthropist fulfills your need for making a difference, shaping the greater good and creating a legacy.
  • Our Style - Why does our style energize us? Because it promises the reward of a met need. Being analytical fulfills my need for order, predictability and security. Being sociable fulfills my need for connection.
  • Our Personality Preferences – Why do our personality preferences energize us? Because they promise the reward of met needs. Your preference of extraversion fulfills your need for belonging.

Needs in tension hold humans together.

A casual glance at the needs reveals that they are often in tension with each other.

Your need for significance drives you to be productive and get results. To achieve this, you need freedom from the interruptions and distractions of your co-workers - you separate yourself from the group and work from home. But your needs for significance and freedom are in tension with your need for belonging, which drives you to connect back with your co-workers, experience cohesion with them and be ‘one of’ the group.

A person who is unable to hold their needs in tension will become:

  • A people-pleaser (holding only to belonging and letting go of all else)
  • A control-freak (holding only to security)
  • A maverick (holding only to freedom)
  • An egomaniac (holding only to significance)
  • An idealist (holding only to meaning)

To become mature, we must make decisions that resolve the inherent tension between our needs. Our workplace gives us an opportunity to transform as humans - to integrate our beings. Learning to integrate and resolve these tensions skillfully releases energy – into us and into our team. Resolving the tensions unskillfully triggers entropy and depletion – into us and into our team.

Resolving tensions skillfully often demands vulnerability – being transparent about our weaknesses. But it is difficult to talk about your weakness when your needs are unmet - when mankind’s 5 greatest fears are looming large above you, and you fear you will experience:

  • Rejection (loss of belonging)
  • Threat (loss of security)
  • Entrapment (loss of freedom)
  • Worthlessness (loss of significance)
  • Futility (loss of meaning)

These fears school us to not talk about our weaknesses. The truly insecure person, the one who lives in terror of these 5 things can talk himself into believing, “I have no need.” In that state of belief, he has:

  • A short circuit in his connection with others
  • An uncommon thirst for power and control
  • A bias toward independence
  • A narrow experience of attainment & fulfillment
  • A stunted sense of purpose

If life does not intervene, this person could become a locus of suffering – for himself – and others.

And this doesn’t just influence his own life. He brings this into his work, impacting those around him.

Until life disrupts his course, he could become the type of leader who engages in pseudo need-meeting, leading his team in a way that produces:

  • Faux belonging – exclusivity and cliques
  • Faux security – protective silos and territorialism
  • Faux freedom – “those rules don’t apply to our team”
  • Faux significance – unhealthy rivalry
  • Faux meaning – our mission is to crush every other team

Such a leader manipulatively uses others’ needs to fuel performance. For example, using a person’s need for belonging to fuel discretionary effort. Allowing them admission to the in group by dropping a comment like, “You’re a real trooper” when they make sacrifices, come in early and stay late.

Using others’ needs manipulatively looks like:

  • Belonging – Offering conditional acceptance, inclusion in the clique
  • Security – Giving warmth if you conform, intimidation if you don’t
  • Freedom – Free rein if you please, control if you don’t
  • Significance – Prominence and privilege - only for those who comply
  • Meaning – Over-playing the purpose card – sacrifice all for the cause

In Conclusion

Expanding your understanding of driving needs helps you in one powerful way: it de-complexifies the mysteries of organizational life.

More About Growing Leadership Capabilities

Juice custom designs solutions to engage your employees, and offers other services to enhance your current offerings.

Related Resources

The Power of Conversation eBook

An Introduction to Terra Nova - An Experiential Learning Simulation

On-Demand Webinar: Introducing The Power of Conversation Training

Back to the Office Conversation Part Two - Leaders: Build the Frame

Energize your work and your team

Receive regular tips, inspiring articles and the latest workshop announcements delivered right to your inbox.