12 Characteristics of Self Actualised People

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In recent weeks several senior leaders we are coaching have wanted deeper exploration and understanding of Self-Actualisation particularly to understand if there are recognisable characteristics. Originally the term ‘Self-Actualisation’ was introduced by the theorist Kurt Goldstein (1934) as the only real motive, a driving force, a person has to realise all of their potential which is very similar to Carl Jung’s (1923) concept of Self-Realisation.

In 1941, the concept of self-actualisation was brought to greater prominence in by Abraham Maslow as the highest level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic needs are fulfilled. Maslow defines self-actualisation as the desire to become more and more of what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”

Later in 1956, Maslow moved beyond the ‘be all that you can be’ and went on to describe self-actualisation as a new way of thinking and being. Carl Rogers joined the debate in 1961. Aligned with Maslow, Rogers described the actualising tendency as ‘an inner biological need to grow and develop both physically and psychologically’, ‘a process of always becoming and changing, rather than a final state i.e. for Rogers, Self-Actualisation is a process of being’.


Characteristics of Self-Actualised People

Self-Actualised people:

  • Are not judgemental and are accepting of themselves and others. They acknowledge their shortcomings yet they are not self-satisfied and smug. Their principal satisfactions come from their own development and continued growth. They are humble in their recognition of what they know in comparison with what they don’t and willingly learn from anyone in any situation.
  • Have a connection with what is real with unusual ability to detect what is fake and/or dishonest. They are not afraid of ambiguity and accept uncertainty, and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar.
  • Are spontaneous. They are not hampered by convention nor are they non-conformist for the sake of it.
  • Are autonomous. The motivation of the self-actualised person is intrinsic, and not externalised.
  • Can seem detached, related to a sense of security and self-sufficiency. They value solitude and are comfortable being alone yet they tend to have deep interpersonal relations with others.
  • Live in the present with a continued freshness of appreciation, deriving pleasure and wonder in their world every day.
  • Are creative with a fresh and direct way of looking at things.
  • Are highly ethical.
  • Are determined, mission-oriented focusing on problems outside of themselves, often on the basis of a sense of responsibility and duty to serve.
  • Have a deep feeling of empathy and compassion for others.
  • Have a non-hostile, non-sarcastic sense of humour and an ability to laugh at themselves.
  • Accept the ‘hand that’s dealt to them’ and the same time taking steps to keep moving forward.   


So what relevance does Self-Actualisation have for Leaders?

Firstly to answer that, we need to consider what effective leaders do. While thousands of books and articles have been written on leadership, at Vivente we have distilled our own answer to that question, which has been validated by our clients. Our view of the responsibilities of leaders is the shaping of a sustainable future, rallying, exciting and inspiring others people to want to take action to achieve a higher levels of performance, with purpose. How? Bydefining and then engaging others in purpose, mission and values driving quantum change, sharing power, facilitating outcomes, creating value, calculating risk, pioneering the way, holding true to course even when the going gets tough, teaching and learning, thinking critically- asking new questions and creating fresh insights, relating to and collaborating with others and teaching others to think for themselves (with confidence). Secondly to answer the question, it’s useful to remember that for leaders to lead, they require followers. In their very interesting research at the London Business School published in Why Would Anyone be Led by You? Goffee and Jones (2006) identified that what followers want from their leaders is authenticity. And many of the characteristics of authenticity described by Goffee and Jones are those of self-actualisation e.g.:

  • Having a sense of their uniqueness,
  • Selflessness – never asking their followers to do what they would not do themselves
  • Recognising they are not perfect and revealing their weaknesses selectively (and not those central to the task)
  • Having vision and living by set of values
  • Being themselves, transmitting who they are.


Our examples of exemplary Self-Actualised leaders

 Mahatma Gandhi

  • ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’
  • “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mary Vallentine AO – CEO, Melbourne Recital Centre and former MD, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Generosity and contribution to the furthering the arts.

Dame Marie Bashir AC – recently retired Governor of the State of New South Wales.
Contributions to medicine and 13 years of continuous public service to the people of New South Wales.

Professor Henry Brodaty AO – Professor of Age Care Mental Health, University of New South Wales; Director, Aged Care Psychiatry and Head of the Memory Disorders Clinic, Prince of Wales Hospital; Director of the Primary Dementia Collaborative Research Centre.
Motivation to explore, learn and understand accompanied by unswerving dedication to improving the quality of life for dementia patients.

Tim Costello AO – Chief Executive of World Vision   Passion for and leadership on social justice issues, ethics, spearheading public debates on gambling, urban poverty, homelessness, reconciliation and substance abuse.


Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.