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Maslow’s 6th Level

Is there anything beyond self-actualisation? According to Maslow’s 1943 hierarchy of needs, self-actualisation was the pinnacle of his 5 level model of motivation. However, late in his life, Maslow described intrinsic values as a sixth level. Hazel Skelsey Guest wrote in the British Psychology Society Journal ‘The Psychologist’ December 2014 about Maslow’s lesser-known sixth level. What does this mean for personal development and coaching people to achieve their full potential?

I first learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when I studied psychology more years ago than I care to remember. But even today his ideas are still a central feature of leadership programmes and academic courses. The hierarchy of needs as first described in 1943 is as follows:

  1. Biological and physiological – air, food, drink, sleep.
  2. Safety – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  3. Love and belonging – friendship, intimacy, affection and love.
  4. Esteem – achievement, mastery, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others.
  5. Self-actualisation – realisation of personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

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Maslow believed that the five levels are biologically rooted and so common to everyone. The lower order motivational levels, according to Maslow, are common to other creatures, but self-actualisation, the peak of the hierarchy is unique to humans. When self-actualised a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.

Maslow said about self-actualisation “It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualised in what he is potentially.”

However, there are questions that remain around the five levels. If someone has achieved self-actualisation and has reached their full potential, what is it that motivates them? Also the five levels relate to the needs of the individual, there is only self-interest. But surely there is something more?

Maslow’s answer to this was a sixth level. Late in his life Maslow described the sixth level as being intrinsic values, for example, truth, goodness, perfection, excellence, fairness, justice, etc. Unlike the other levels, the sixth level transcends self-interest, considering wider holistic matters for a greater good. This is the selfless service to others and a cause beyond an individual.

Originally, Maslow considered that the sixth level needs were spiritual in nature and so not everyone would be motivated in this way. As this was not universal, Maslow limited his original model to 5 levels. However, later in his life he came to believe that the sixth level was in fact a biological part of every human and so legitimately a part of his hierarchy. However, his sixth level is not widely known as it was published in the little known Journal of Humanistic Psychology shortly before he died.

So achievement of full potential is not through self-actualisation alone; this is a step along the way to intrinsic values and self-transcendence. And so the journey of personal development is on going beyond self to the consideration of the connectivity of us all. The sixth level suggests that we move from independent individuals to an interdependent society to achieve complete fulfillment.

As coaches how can we work with our coachees to explore their true purpose, their universal mission for the greater good?

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