The dragon is distraught. The king is refusing to take it for a walk. He hands the task to the princess, who just needs to be left alone. Now the king is relaxed and satisfied. The dragon is dissatisfied as it pulls on the leash, held back by the resentful princess. The dragon burns the leash with its fire breath. Now liberated, the dragon is satisfied. The princess is angry and dissatisfied, since her need did not involve going for a walk. The princess lost out, because she was either unaware of or failed to stand up for her own need (to be left alone).

''Once upon a time, there was a woman who had learnt to fulfil other people's needs rather than her own.''

The notion of needs

It is helpful for any human being – and leaders in particular – to acknowledge that most of us are loved for what we do, not for who we are. From an early age, most of us have learned what pleases and displeases our parents. We quickly learn to adapt our behaviour accordingly and thus to push aside those aspects of ourselves that are unwelcome, lest we lose mum’s or dad’s affection. That behaviour does not promote self-esteem, which comes from fulfilling our own needs and achieving satisfaction for ourselves. Instead, it erodes our self-esteem.

The impressive human ability to set our own needs aside is a powerful survival mechanism, and in combination with our ability to focus on fulfilling other people’s needs it can promote both our interpersonal relations and our careers. Our emotional foundation is established and maintained through love and through our parents’ fulfilment of our needs in childhood.

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The more need fulfilment, contact and love we receive in early childhood, the ­greater our self-esteem. We all do the best we know. So did our parents. ­Unfortunately, what we know, and what our parents knew, is not always enough. It may even be erroneous or stem from a paradigm that is either outdated or inappropriate for the culture we are currently living in. Throughout human evolution, geographic, social and historical conditions have left their mark on humanity as a whole and on each of us as individuals and have caused us to take certain steps to ensure our survival.
That has favoured certain virtues at the cost of others. In times of hardship, our ability to set aside our own needs is essential. So is our ability to perform arduous tasks (such as completing lengthy and demanding ­academic training, which requires us to grit our teeth and push through fatigue). Here, the good life and sensuous pleasures are not the path to success. It is not enough to be admired by the people around us or in the world at large – that may boost our confidence but does nothing for our self-esteem.

Good self-esteem is a condition for making assertive choices. It is also a condition for being able to deal with criticism, remain agile, show good personal leadership and set a course that is significant to ourselves and to others. Self-esteem reflects your own perception of yourself, regardless how others see you. Thus, you can feel a high degree of confidence as a reflection of your professional competence, praise, experience and success, yet still be dissatisfied with yourself or your life. That gives rise to a feeling that calls for a development effort focused on building self-love, fulfilling needs and achieving emotional mirroring from another person. Appreciating yourself as you are, not just for what you do, and fulfilling your needs as they emerge – that is how you build self-esteem. Self-esteem is generated through love, and in adulthood it is generated by the love you give yourself: self-love.

That is not an easy mindset to embrace for someone who was raised within a ­paradigm that is now obsolete. That calls for a new paradigm, one that offers new learning and personal support for the development of self-esteem to improve your ability to deal with life in general and future challenges in particular. The key to building and maintaining good self-esteem is our capacity to sense and identify our own needs and, subsequently, to take responsibility for having them ­fulfilled.That may soundlike a straightforwardtask anda simple ­human ­mechanism to master. However, for most of us, what was once second nature has been pushed aside in a process that began in early childhood. What we have ­forgotten – to such a degree that most of us have to engage in a targeted and ­deliberate effort to rediscover and train our ability to sense and understand our needs – is in fact the path to greater personal satisfaction, love, success and vitality.

Thus, it is essential that we train ourselves to sense and identify our needs in order to improve our ability to identify and describe the object of need that brings release and satisfaction. Although Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ is far from new, it may still serve as an illustrative model of our needs structure. However, our individual needs are not hierarchical. Thus, it may be more helpful to view the needs in a flat structure, as they can all be present at the same time – that is how human nature works. Now we can focus on the individual needs one by one. There are many different needs, there are often multiple needs present at once, and they vary over time. Whatever they are, they all generate an inner tension that has to be released for us to experience satisfaction. Imagine a tension curve for each of the needs we may experience. The level of ­tension ranges from 0 to 10, with 10 as the highest level.

If you are thirsty, water may be the object of need. After you drink, the tension ­decreases, and you are satisfied in this regard. At the same time, however, you may crave a soothing touch. Maybe you need a soothing touch generally. Or maybe you need a particular person to fulfil that need in a particular way, perhaps focused on a particular part of your body. In other words, you needs may have considerable specificity or nuance. If your need is met with the right object of need, your inner tension decreases, and you are now satisfied in that regard. Perhaps moments of happiness arise in those rare and fleeting moments when all our needs are met?


It is important to sense yourself and to fulfil your own ever-changing needs as much as possible. In fact, that is in everyone’s interest. In that way, for example, the king does not become a person who uses other people. The dragon gets to go for a walk with someone who is in the mood for taking it for a walk. And the princess is not taken advantage of. The king, who owns the dragon, has to arrange for it to be taken for walks or take steps to place it in a family where it is not seen as a burden. If the king leaves the princess alone, she might even feel like taking the dragon for a walk. When our self-love is strengthened, we find that we have more satisfaction, joy and love to share with others. A world that is based on voluntary actions and
­constructive initiative is a better world. That sort of drive and constructive energy is only possible if we treat ourselves with loving kindness. First, love yourself – that is the condition for loving anyone else.

That applies in particular to leaders, who have a huge untapped potential for exercising self-esteem leadership in interactions with their employees. Self-esteem leadership stimulates the employees’ self-esteem, which in turn ­promotes commitment, loyalty, contentment and job satisfaction. Leaders who learn to exercise self-esteem leadership will develop a competitive edge and an
­extraordinary ability to generate results. The key to self-esteem leadership is to ‘love’ the employees for who they are – to ­encourage and support the individual employees’ needs satisfaction with
self-­esteem in mind and to appreciate and reward individual performance. More on that in the following chapters …

The purpose of these exercises is to enhance your body awareness in order to get better at sensing and identifying your needs, which will improve your quality of life. It is important to read and understand the general instructions for the exercises, which you find here. Write down how you rate the individual needs, using a scale from 0 to 10, which you find here.

  1. Close your eyes and focus your attention inward. Notice how you feel: how hungry, thirsty, cold, warm, tired, nervous, sexually aroused are you right now?
    How strong is your urge to pee? How strong is your desire for a soothing touch?
    Sexually arousing touch? Your urge to work? To be creative? To reflect on existential
  2. Write down any other needs and how you rate them.
    In the next chapter, which deals with objects of need, you will use your ability to
    sense and identify your needs and, next, learn how encountering the right object of
    need will leave you satisfied.