Supporting people’s growth is probably one of my favorite team leader “duties”. When writing this article I’ve been a leader for more than 2 years and I must say, I’ve been doing it wrong for most of this time…

Doing nothing is better than doing too much

For most of this period, everything about growth had one centralized event called “evaluation” or “performance review” in some companies. The idea was to get feedback, talk about how to approach it, plan the future (i.e. by defining goals), and perform a salary bump.

Well, it does not sound so bad, right? As usual, the devil is in the details. I’ve been doing too much in this area — I’ve been responsible for gathering feedback and summarizing it, helped a team member define some measurable goals which we regularly reviewed together, and I tried to help to do the next step. What’s the problem with such an approach?

I’ve unconsciously created an environment where I pushed this growth forward.

Why a leader shouldn’t push people?

Now I want to share with you a bit of the theory behind teams - Theories X, Y, and Maslow’s. Let me share with you a part of Robert Townsend’s book that ideally describes these theories:

Theory X:

1. People hate work.

2. They have to be driven and threatened with punishment to get them to work toward organisational objectives.

3. They like security, aren’t ambitious, want to be told what to do, and dislike responsibility.

I know this sounds a bit too strong in comparison to how I described my growth pushing. However, I strongly believe that the mindset I had was sort of similar even if I came to it unconsciously.

The alternative comes with Theory Y and Maslow’s Theory, again described very well by Bob Townsend:

1. People don’t hate work. It’s as natural as rest or play.

2. They don’t have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they’ll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them.

3. But they’ll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisfying their ego and development needs.

Growth belongs to people, not you, leader!

For me, the clue of the above theories is that growth belongs to people, and I as a leader shouldn’t do anything special around it. I shouldn’t gather feedback or force the direction of growth by defining goals. My role is to support people in satisfying their needs.

Then let’s take a look at the needs that I should support satisfying:


I’ve decided to skip physiological and safety needs cause they seem to be out of “work” scope to me.

  • Love (Belonging) - When it comes to belonging I think it’s about what the team means to a particular team member. As a leader, my role is to help build strong relationships in a team as well as inspire the team to define its purpose. If a team has some dysfunctions I should help overcome them. I want to build a strong team, where there is a high level of trust, a lot of teamwork, and space for constructive conflict.
  • Esteem - This is usually a synonym for satisfying the ego but I think it’s something more. I would phrase that as I do my important job well. So as a leader, I want to make sure that every member of the team is happy with the work that’s to be done, and that this work is important to others. Nobody is excited to do a task that no one needs. No matter if it’s a user need, a business need or a smart mix of both - members of the team must feel the importance of it. Another topic is being satisfied with the outcome of work - this is built on top of the confidence, trust, and excitement of other team members, etc… I believe that teams should build a culture of celebrating both individual’s and the team’s outcomes.
  • Self-Actualization / Self-Transcendence - Here we came to “growth”. Yes - growth is a natural need of people and a leader doesn’t need to push them. Then how could I help as a leader? As mentioned before - it’s better to do nothing than to do too much, so I strongly believe that the leader shouldn’t do anything special here. Maybe a leader can help create some environment needed for growth, maybe could be an inspiration? However when the team is strongly connected and there is a high satisfaction of esteem need then people are so motivated that they shouldn’t be blocked.

How do team grows now?

So, when I realised that I’ve been a bad leader I focused on helping my team member satisfy their belonging and esteem needs. At the same time, I moved away from the growth topic. I left it to the team members and guess what — they now drive themselves better than ever in the direction they want to grow.

Evaluation? We don’t care about any standardized process. Goals? If someone needs them - believe me, or not - will set and evaluate them by themselves. Feedback gathering? It’s now even more precise cause people ask the team about the specific direction they want to grow. Do I have to control that direction? No. The whole team does because it has a common purpose in which everyone participated.


At the end of the article I want to share with you one of the most important quotes about leadership from Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings:

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.

That’s why at the start of every season I always encouraged players to focus on the journey rather than the goal. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.

I know this sounds abstract at the first glance but it works so damn well… When your team has a culture built on trust then there is nothing to worry about. If you want to talk more about leadership email me or catch me on Twitter 🙂

McGregor’s X & Y theory

Maslow’s Final Theory Z

The Farther Reaches of Human Nature - Abraham Maslow

The rarest commodity is leadership without ego - Bob Davids

Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits - Bob Chapman

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success - Phil Jackson

Truly Human Leadership - Bob Chapman

Just Let Them Be Great - Maciej Kaszubowski (2020)

Courage to be happy (+ Courage to be disliked) - Kishimi Ichiro, Koga Fumitake