Human Need for Significance: how can it manifest itself in executives?

Need for significance

The Need for Significance and How This Manifests in Executives (Part 4 in the Human Needs Series)

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the four needs that humans need to fulfil: the need for significance, control, belonging, and contentment. We’ve also looked at two of these in more detail – control and belonging.

If you missed these posts, you can catch up here.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at the human need for significance in more detail. This refers to our need to feel powerful, valued, important, and needed by others. It also relates to things like recognition, status, respect, and self-esteem, including in terms of both how other see us and how we see ourselves.

If we have a good sense of self, we will feel confident in our work. We will also feel comfortable in the fact that we are powerful, significant, and valued and needed by others. We will also feel accomplished, and have a good sense of personal self-worth.

However, if this need for significance is not met, it may manifest itself as denial, defensiveness, pressure, and competition (where you always feel the need to compete with and “beat” others). This will also result in poor confidence and feelings of inferiority. None of these are characteristics of a good leader, which is why it is so important that we are able to fulfil our need for significance, and get back on track to displaying those more positive characteristics that make for great business leaders.

There are two main ways in which we can make ourselves feel important, and get closer to meeting this need for significance. The first is by creating drama, and engaging in attention-seeking or irresponsible behaviours. These are both examples of negative and harmful means of creating importance, which effectively equate to self-sabotage. Although this example is not directly related to CEOs and business leaders, one analogy would be someone who holds up a petrol station to make themselves feel important, this is a harmful approach.

The other way uses more positive means to be recognised and rewarded for your contributions. For example:

  • Accomplishing achievements and delivering significant results
  • Using this need to drive you to continue to level up to be the best version of yourself.
  • Making valuable contributions to your industry

You may also:

  • Re-assess your priorities and make a plan about what you will do to achieve your goals, and create a situation where you feel more confident in yourself and your abilities
  • Replace negative self-talk with motivation
  • Reprogram your mindset and turn negativity into positivity
  • Be kinder to yourself
  • Practice greater self-acceptance (e.g. that mistakes happen, everyone makes mistakes, and making a mistake does not mean that you are a failure)
  • Surround yourself with people who have a positive impact on your sense of self, and who inspire you to greater heights.

If you are struggling to fulfil this need for significance, and are finding this is having a serious or negative impact on your day-to-day life, consider reaching out to a professional help service. There are a number of help services available, including Lifeline (13 11 14) and Beyond Blue (1300 224 636).

If you’re struggling to fulfil this need, you may also find it helpful to strike up a mentoring relationship with another business leader or executive who has been through the same thing. This is one of the services I offer as an executive advisor and coach. You can find out more about my services here.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the final post in this series at here.


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Caroline Kennedy, author of Lead Beyond 2030: The Nine Skills You Need to Intensify Your Leadership Impact, is an accomplished, award-winning CEO and global thought leader on business and leadership. She is a highly sought-after mentor and coach to top global executives. A respected keynote speaker and author, Caroline’s methods are neuroscience-based to achieve rapid development and growth.


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