You’re probably familiar with the transformational speaker, Tony Robbins. He has a knack for breaking down how we can understand ourselves just a little bit better so that we can reach our goals and create a spectacular life. His TED Talk from 2006 is still one of the most-watched YouTube videos because he shares a topic we can all relate to: The Six Human Needs. Let’s focus on these 6 human needs to see how you can make your life and your school even more spectacular.

Personality Needs

The first human need is certainty. Human beings like to know the what’s and when’s of their life. Feeling in control clears our mind and enables us to make decisions, think deeply, and complete tasks. That’s what processes and procedures give us at school. When these are unclear or don’t exist, people will avoid them. To illustrate that point, let me make a confession: I have never picked up my children from high school, and I’ve had kids in high school since 2011. I never learned the procedures, so I avoid it. It can’t be that hard, but I feel foolish at this point, so my kids are stuck on the bus until they get their driver’s license. Maybe you have parents at your school who are like me. What can you do to offer some certainty?

The second human need is, ironically, uncertainty. This is what makes jokes funny and food delicious. The chicken wanting to get to the other side; the salt in the chocolate chip cookie: these are delightful examples of playing to our human need for uncertainty. Uncertainty can be jarring though. When a student with severe needs enrolls in your school, your first inclination might be to think of your limited resources and worry that you won’t be able to serve the child. Then your true educator self comes through, and you say, “Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here.” This is when you are truly tested on how innovative and knowledgeable you can be about serving all children. You might be uncertain, but you will do the right thing.

The third need is significance. We all like to feel important. We like to believe that we have contributed to something bigger than ourselves. When a child reads for the first time or a parent volunteers for the first time, as a school leader, I just glowed inside because I knew I was helping a person open a door they hadn’t opened themselves.

The fourth human needs is that need for connection and love. At work, we will settle for connection. In meetings, you might have noticed that people tend to sit with people who are most like them. I led a workshop recently, and it was as if directions had been given for everyone to separate by race. When we have to work with people who are not like us, we have to find common ground. We could connect on our life goals, our unique skill sets, and our values, but these can be tricky because they are so personal and force us to be vulnerable with one another. Relationships are worth the risk.

Certainty, uncertainty, significance, and connection are the first four basic human needs. They are needs of the personality. Which one is your top need? Take this quiz to find out. I thought mine would be significance because I’m always trying to find a way to make a difference, but according to the quiz, my greatest need certainty. It makes sense. I have no problem finishing tasks that I have clarity on, but the ones that I’m unsure about, I delay. I’ve started developing a question bank that I can use when I have new project to ensure that I have clarity, but with this new awareness, I can act instead of avoid.

Spirit Needs

The last two human needs are needs of the spirit: growth and contribution. We must continue to grow; otherwise, we die. How are you growing? Are you taking a class? Are you pushing yourself to get better at something? Take some time thinking about how you’d like to grow.

The last human need is contribution. We need to give back in order to feel whole, but you don’t have to limit your idea of contribution to money. Although money usually helps any organization, contribution can be a combination of money and actions because giving money can be too easy. You don’t have to bother with relationships or uncomfortable conversations. You just have to write a check.

In the last few years, I found myself more on the money side instead of the action side, so this fall, I’ve started volunteering at The Relatives, an organization that provides temporary housing for children ages 7-17. The children may have run away from home, have been dropped off by their parents, or are homeless. In any case, they all need the same thing: someone to spend time with them, to listen to their stories, and to show them that they matter.

Volunteering fulfills my need for contribution and significance. I’m giving my time and attention to kids who are struggling, and their laughter and smiles make me feel significant. I create the schedule, so I get certainty. I never know who is going to be there, so that satisfies my need for uncertainty. Every time, there’s a child who challenges me and teaches me something new. Whether it’s a new rule in a game or a new perspective on school or family, they teach me something new. This fulfills my need for growth. These kids have been rejected by their parents, have been in jail, or have lived on the streets, but they take the time to teach me how to play a new basketball game or tell me a joke. Their resilience is astonishing, and I fall in love with their spirit every time. Volunteering meets all of my human needs in one evening.

Are you Constructing or Destructing?

Consider how you meet your six core needs. Is it through constructive ways, or is it through destructive or unresourceful ways? You can meet your need for significance by gossiping, putting others down, or playing the victim, or you could do it by achieving a goal, volunteering, or learning a new skill. You could meet your need for uncertainty by failing to plan, relying on others to “save” you, or drinking regularly, or your could challenge yourself to try new activities and meet new people.

Tony says that if an activity fulfills at least three human needs, we will become addicted to that activity. As a school leader, figure out what job responsibilities fulfill three of your needs and which ones most drain you. By figuring out what fuels you, you’ll be able to create strategies to fuel up for those responsibilities that drain you. If you can figure out how to delegate efficiently so that you stay in your strength zone at least 95% of the time, you’ll have a much higher chance of leading your school to success.

Let’s Construct Together!

If you are ready to grow, take Tony’s quiz and email me at to schedule a free coaching session with me to talk through your quiz results and create a success plan. 

This blog was written by Katy Ridnouer, Leadership Coach, Speaker and Trainer with Leaders Building Leaders. If you found this content valuable, please share it.

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