Stand Together Foundation recently hosted a series of webinars for Catalysts to explore the implications of self-actualization. Nonprofit leaders rarely spend time reflecting on their own needs, hopes, and dreams—but that reflection is a critical ingredient for meaningful work. This article summarizes some key insights from our conversation with social entrepreneurs in the Catalyst community.
Self-actualization can be a bit of a deceptive term, because the word “self” makes it seem like an individual pursuit. To be fair, self-actualization often does play out this way. For example, we’ve already explored how self-actualization can make you a better leader.
But if you’re really serious about pursuing self-actualization, you’re going to need the support and feedback of trusted people in your life. And if you want to see your colleagues reach their full potential, you can play a part in their self-actualization journey, too.
As a nonprofit leader, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is the ability to shape internal culture. The management practices you deploy will directly or indirectly impact the employee experience. So how can you design systems, practices, and environments in your workplace that help your teammates flourish? How can you remove barriers from their self-actualization journey, and avoid inadvertently putting up new ones?
Below are three organizational conditions that enable self-actualization. If you’re serious about empowering your team members’ individual growth, take some time to think about how you can integrate these conditions into your workplace.
Roles, Responsibilities, and Expectations (RR&Es) shouldn’t be uniform. Every individual brings different talents and abilities to their work, and forcing them to fit into predetermined roles means you won’t benefit from their maximum contribution and they won’t enjoy maximum fulfillment.
Instead, aim to build RR&E’s around the person, and give each team member the agency to identify their own path forward. Why are they drawn to your organization? What gives them a sense of purpose? What do they view as their own “superpower”? If you can’t answer these questions, you might still have some work to do.
Part of the self-actualization journey is feeling safe enough to try new things, make mistakes, and adapt. Is your team actively encouraged to get creative when solving problems? Are they free to share their opinion about decisions that aren’t technically related to their role? Have you cultivated a culture that embraces healthy debate, or are team members expected to fall in line?
Keep in mind that safety must be proven. Many organizations say that they encourage creativity, but in practice they discourage disagreement or independent thinking. You must ensure that your stated environment and your actual environment are in alignment.
A life well-lived is one in which you get to use your personal strengths on a daily basis. As a nonprofit leader, you have the unique opportunity to make that happen for every employee.
Design responsibilities and performance goals based on your team members’ strengths, instead of focusing on improving their weaknesses. Check in with them to learn what they believe about their own abilities. And when you see a performance gap, work with them to identify how they might use their existing strengths to solve the problem at hand.