Abraham Maslow on being an introverted leader

February 19, 2016 in Blog


I just finished reading over 1000 pages of Abraham Maslow’s personal journal. This project has taken up a good part of the last 6 months of my life. But I have found it immensely satisfying and rewarding to peer into the deepest recesses of the mind of one of my intellectual heros.

I have a lot to say about what I’ve read (as evidenced by the copious amount of notes I scribbled into the margins of his journal), but for now I want to leave you with this journal entry, written just a month before he suddenly passed away. I really like this entry because it speaks to the importance of sticking to your values, and going beyond intelligence in order to become a fully self-actualized human being. This entry even shows that it’s never too late for personal reflection and self-understanding. Maslow himself was evaluating who he was all the way until the end.

May 7th, 1970

Much turmoil & sadness last few days as the campus situation gets worse & worse — again, with the impulse to get in there & fight. I wrote a letter to ICIS Fellows, but finally put it aside to soak for awhile. Again the feeling of always being in a minority– but which has always turned out later to be a majority. Or, better way to say: since, when I do talk up as if I were all alone, I find always some (many?) of the silent ones agreeing with me rather than disagreeing as I had expected, then I seem to get cast in the role of leader & spokesman, i.e., of the courageous one. But I’m just not the leader type! I don’t like polemics & debate & personal attack. I am not temperamentally “courageous”. My courage is really an overcoming of all sorts of inhibitions, politeness, gentleness, timidities– & it always costs me a lot in fatigue, tension, apprehension, bad sleep, etc. Somebody asked me the question at the AHP party, & also Colin Wilson did: How did a timid youngster get transformed into a (seemingly) “courageous” leader & spokesman? How come I was willing to talk up, to take unpopular positions, while most others didn’t? My immediate tendency was to say: “Intelligence– just realistic seeing of the facts.” But I held that answer back because– alone– it’s wrong. “Good will, compassion, and intelligence,” I finally answered. I think I added that I’d simply learned a lot from my self-actualizing subjects & from their way of life, & from their metamotivations, which have now become mine. So I respond emotionally to the injustice, the meanness, the lies, the untruths, the hatred & violence, the simplistic answers that run counter to B-comprehensiveness & B-complexity. So I feel cheap & guilty & unmanly when I don’t talk up. So then, in a sense, I have to. If I were really Olympian & long-term, etc., it would be far better to stick to my work & solve the problems positively instead of fighting emergency actions now. So again this A.M. I decided the obvious. What the kids and the intellectuals– & everybody else too– need is an ethos, a scientific value system & way of life, & humanistic politics, with the theory, the facts, etc., all set forth soberly. What the kids need is an alternative system to the one offered by the stupid hoodlums & the amoral or antimoral intellectuals. Always I come to this conclusion, & always it has been effective. I have after all done much of this job already, & it’s already being effective with a sizable group, even if not as sizable as it should be. So again I must say to myself: to work!

4 Responses to “Abraham Maslow on being an introverted leader”

  1. Thanks! BTW, I LOVE your podcast… it’s the latest treasure I have found. I also love this post. Thanks for sharing it! Leadership is so hard! And that’s why I think it isn’t constant. Sometimes we choose to lead and others times we don’t. Hopefully we’re leaders more often than we’re not. It’s so hard! I would rather be quiet… and hope for things to change. And yet I also want to speak up… This is great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Howard says:

    There is a gravitas and an ecstasy like a hopeful epitaph.

  3. moira says:

    I admire Maslow for what I have read of his writings, also the fact that he was constantly self evaluating.
    I also admire the writer of this piece for his honesty and courage. I have also felt like a coward for not speaking up and like a fool if I spoke up in haste. This is very hopeful for us all, who want to do the right thing but can find it difficult.

  4. I don’t usually comment but I gotta state regards for the post on this amazing one :D.