Leader Volume 8, Number 11
Need for Nurturance: Actions and Reactions
Meyer is owner of Brainerd Consulting Services in Chattanooga, TN
(phone 423.892.6000; email email@example.com;
bcs-brainerdconsulting.com), assisting companies
through evaluation, training and individual and group
A corporate vice
president couldn’t believe it when he was accused of sexually
harassing a junior executive whom he had mentored.
He was unable to see how his actions could have been
misconstrued. He had
tried to teach her to relate with others in order to effectively
manipulate corporate politics.
He had emphasized the need to “pay your dues” to get
recognized as a team player, doing little things for those with
power. He tried to
show her how to help others in order to gain their cooperation in
the future. He
focused her on being aware of others’ needs in order to gain
power. He encouraged
her to practice these ideas in her relationship to him, believing
he was a good learning model.
When accused, it seemed to him that she had done the
opposite of what he had tried to help her learn.
She heard the VP
telling her to take care of him, and then he would look after her.
She saw him as a paradox, a powerful executive hiding an inner,
lonely, needy little boy. When
he got upset because she refused to do the little favors he kept
asking, what she heard was his wanting her to serve him like a
wife or mother. In
her view, he was using his power to control her in a sexist
fashion, demeaning her talents and skills as well as debasing her
by One’s Needs
and managers have problems with the people with whom they interact
most. This lies in
their unacknowledged need for nurturance, and is seen most often
in middle-aged men; although women are certainly not immune.
These individuals frequently become powerful due to their
work-a-holic behavior. By focusing on work, they avoid feeling the
emptiness and neediness inside, which is part of a long term, low
level of depression. They
gain both admiration and power through hard work. Admiration
motivates some workers to care for them, meeting their nurturance
needs in a positive way. Their
power compels other workers to act caring, when in reality they
fear and despise their boss.
There is good reason for millions to laugh at Dilbert’s
pointy haired boss and Mr. Dithers, Dagwood’s CEO.
and managers, aware of their need for nurturance, fear showing it.
They are afraid to open up or seek help, fearing others
will see them as weak and vulnerable. They become aloof, isolated, and even more needy.
Overcompensating for their neediness, they turn more and
more to using their power, withdrawing further from others
emotionally. They are
impatient, demanding perfection from their subordinates and
refusing to acknowledge any weakness.
They become stubborn and resistant to suggestions because
they believe this infers that they are not fully capable.
These executives surround themselves with “Yes” men and
women, who flatter and serve their every whim.
However, inside they long to hear honest, independent
opinions, because they don’t trust themselves; their confidence
being a façade.
In the past,
showing softness was considered unacceptable.
The press savaged Vice-President Mondale for having tears
in his eyes after losing the New Hampshire presidential primary. Pat Schroeder was also put down for being too feminine when
she cried in public while running in the presidential primary.
More recently however, General Schwartzkopf, who is not
likely to be put down as too soft, showed his emotions openly when
he commented on the deaths of his troops in Desert Storm.
Today, modern society is more accepting, so there is no
reason to deny or hide one’s needs.
not feeling comfortable in an aggressively controlling role,
sublimate their need for nurturance through leadership in
charitable or civic work. There
they find other people who give them nurturance and affirmation.
And those served show a great deal of gratitude.
This is a positive sublimation of their needs. But these activities must be genuine, expressing true desires
to serve, or they do not fulfill the person’s needs.
The movie, For
the Boys, is about a male entertainer who performed tours to
entertain our troops. It
presented a picture of a demanding, immature person who was the
opposite of his public persona.
Having seen Bob Hope on the 1968 Vietnam Christmas tour, I
assume the movie was about him.
President Clinton shows a great deal of caring; yet he
obviously has strong needs that he inappropriately meets.
This paradoxical behavior is often reported about other
powerful people (athletes, movie stars, musicians, and politicians
as well as business executives).
The reader may also identify individuals they know who fit
individuals’ need for nurturance drives them to self-defeating
actions. A manager passed up a promotion because he didn’t want to
leave an office where he had surrounded himself with individuals
who took care of him. A
micro-managing physician regularly blew up at the office staff,
though expressing a wish to be loved by them.
The staff admired the doctor for medical care given, but
feared inappropriate behaviors.
When several professionals left the group, this doctor
mourned, but increased the explosive demands on those who
remained. In another
case, a manager fired supervisors who dared to be bearers of bad
news, only to rehire them later.
high-level individuals burn out because of the emotional demands
put on them. Keeping
up a façade of competence and independence while having strong
needs to depend on others for nurturance is too much to bear.
Like the physician mentioned above, they may be so
demanding that they alienate the very people upon whom they
depend. When this
happens, they frequently become angry, isolated, and more
demanding. They work
even harder to gain the positive reactions they so crave, only to
exhaust their inner resources.
must learn about themselves in order to make appropriate changes.
Most are in denial of their neediness; others hide it.
Therefore, it’s up to their peers or superiors to help
them see what’s happening.
Some want to help a friend escape the consequences of the
friend’s behavior. Others
are motivated to protect the organization from the inevitable
intervention (like those used to help alcoholics) is one way to
break through denial and avoidance.
After laying aside their own hurt, anger and vengeance,
those who are closely associated with the needy individual must
assemble and share their concerns with that person. By using tough love, they help the person see the facts and
necessary before the person ruins his or her own career as well as
the lives of others. The
personal and financial costs of not handling the situation are
high: shattered careers, good people forced to leave a firm,
hostile factions formed, a department that’s temporarily
paralyzed due to conflict; or worse, a costly discrimination or
harassment lawsuit. If
intervening restores disrupted relationships and communications,
even if it follows an unpleasant incident, it is well worth the
effort. The best outcome is from intervening before the situation
reaches a crisis.
organization’s focus must continue to be on helping the
department or group to effectively function.
Caring associates can assist by giving feedback to the
manager when further inappropriate behavior is seen.
A mentor can help make sense of peers’ feedback and plan
how to handle situations. However,
the manager and others offended by him/her may need to seek
professional help through psychotherapy.
This isn’t part of the organizational intervention but
may be arranged through an Employee Assistance Program.
can be evaluated using the ELEMENT-B (previously FIRO-B)
questionnaire, which focuses on three areas of need, Inclusion,
Control, and Openness. Each
area has two dimensions, Wanted and Expressed.
The Wanted factor in each of the three dimensions indicates
what a person needs from others.
The Expressed factor indicates a person who initiates any
of the three areas towards others. Persons involved in inappropriate work relationships and
their superiors can use this instrument to assist them in
understanding the problem and planning how to handle the
Unmet needs, both
positive and negative, are a major focus of research on
needs are properly directed or sublimated, they assist people in
having productive and effective lives.
When needs are denied or hidden and come out inadvertently,
they can create tremendous problems, hurt, and loss.
It is important to make these needs overt so that they can
be appropriately handled before disaster hits.