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Behavior Belonging Leadership Psychological Safety Self awareness

What do leadership and a caramel macchiato have in common?

As a leader, it’s crucial to be proactive and seek insights. Don’t just focus on the surface-level ‘what’; dig deeper to understand the ‘why.’.

I remember vividly one of my university lectures on consumer behavior. I studied economics, specialized in management and marketing, and loved the lessons on behavior. 

I was already interested in culture (I took an elective on Japanese culture and what we could learn from Western societies), psychology (I excelled at organizational psychology), and consumer behavior (which is crucial for business success).

One quote I will never forget, which I can attribute to Professor Peter Leeflang, one of the academic marketing gurus in the Netherlands, holds a profound relevance to the topic of leadership:

“People don’t buy perfume because they want perfume. They buy perfume because they need to feel good and self-assure themselves.”

Prof. Dr. Peter Leeflang

It’s the first time I’ve heard about needs and wants. A need is something we need to live our lives or sometimes even survive. A want is something we desire but can live without. The above perfume example is ultimately about the need for belonging and self-esteem. 

Another example. We need food to survive but want a tall caramel macchiato with whipped cream.

Now, how does a tall caramel macchiato relate to leadership and, ultimately, the success of your business?

If you can truly grasp individuals’ underlying needs beyond their superficial desires, you will enhance your leadership skills and empower yourself to make a more significant impact.

Here’s a leadership example related to needs and wants. Most people will acknowledge that they would welcome a pay raise when asked about compensation. You probably can imagine somebody coming to you asking for a pay raise: 

“I’d like to discuss a pay raise.”

But is that really what they need, or just what they want? Did they run out of money and now can’t afford the rent or groceries anymore? Or is it because they overheard a colleague or friend working at another company saying they got a pay raise? And what’s then the real reason they’re asking for a pay raise? Is it just because somebody else got it also? 

So what would you do when somebody comes to you with that question? 

Would you decline the request, indicating that this is not the time to ask for a raise or that the company (the company, not you) doesn’t have any budget to honor pay increases? Or perhaps you would say that you would love to give a pay raise, but that would not be fair to the others on the team.

Have you heard one of those arguments before in your career?

These requests communicate at the ‘want’ level — a caramel macchiato conversation. Communication like this ultimately damages relationships. With a simple ‘No,’ people do not feel heard. This pay raise example is not a conversation at the need level.

It’s likely about something other than the pay raise for the person asking. It’s not about the need to have more money. And for you, the leader, it’s not about collecting the evidence of why somebody would need a pay raise. It’s about gaining insight into why the question was asked in the first place.

Why would someone ask for a pay raise beyond the simple reason that having a higher salary is nice?

Now, let’s turn it to you. 

Why would you ask for a pay raise, knowing that you don’t need one but that having more money is still nice?

Would you just ask for more money out of the blue? Just like that? Or is it likely you ask because you know people around you have recently received a pay raise or make more money than you in similar roles or situations? 

Is it really about you, or is it about comparing yourself to others? Could it be true that you suddenly feel less valued because others are now making more money?

I don’t think it’s about more money. More money reflects the want, while feeling valued is the need. In the context of a pay raise, it’s not just about the financial aspect but also the recognition and value it signifies.

For years, female leaders made less money than their male counterparts. In some places they still do. Implicitly, we are saying that we value women less than men. Luckily, that trend is (unfortunately, slowly) changing.

Another question. Why do you think psychological safety is suddenly such a hot topic? 

Psychological safety is more relevant than ever because more and more people are becoming verbal about their need to feel safe. It’s not that there’s less psychological safety in the workplace these days. There’s probably more of it than ever before. Increased attention to diversity and inclusion and the influence of social media have made us more verbal and outgoing. We feel safe enough to raise misconduct in the workplace faster, which is great.

It has a tremendous impact on the way we lead. 

As a leader with the ambition to grow further and help others grow, you need to understand the deeper meaning behind the behavior your people are demonstrating.

As a leader, it’s crucial to be proactive and seek insights. Don’t just focus on the surface-level ‘what’ (such as a pay raise request); dig deeper to understand the ‘why’ (such as the need for recognition or feeling valued).

You need to uncover what people really need. And then you need to accommodate those needs or be able to explain why you can’t while keeping people engaged. 

Of course, you can continue to be that old-school hard a$# who expects a return for the money you pay. Continue to be the traditional self-centered manager who thinks transactional by expecting a return for the pay you provide. Hold people accountable by gathering evidence for a good or bad performance. But then don’t blame those people who leave because they’re also becoming increasingly transactional.

Or …

You understand your coaching role as a leader and invest in understanding the needs of the people who work for you.

So?

– Want or Need?
– Pay or Value?
– Reactive or Proactive?
– Cost or Care?
– Fear or Fun & Fulfillment?
– Gathering Evidence or Seeking Insight?
– Holding people Accountable or Able?

What do you prefer:

#1. Want. Pay. Reactive. Cost. Fear. Evidence. Accountable.

Or

#2. Need. Value. Proactive. Care. Fun. Fulfillment. Insight. Able.

NB. People who are being held able (empowered) will hold themselves accountable.

Are you practicing transactional management, where work is seen as a series of transactions, or embodying transformational leadership, where work fosters growth, engagement, and fulfillment?

Is work really about the transaction, or is it about fun and fulfillment? 

Of course, I know what you prefer. That’s why you’re reading my insights, right?

But can you be that leader now, or do you know how to get there? 

Few people know how to be such transformational leaders. So, let’s be honest here.

Your turn: 

Do you?

Schedule a free growth conversation here if you need support on your journey.

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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