Self Realization

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Self-realization is defined as the drive to become what one is capable of at his or her fullest potential, often-aligned in management parlance with self-fulfillment. The self-realized person is characterized as having a high level of self-knowledge, an integrated personality that allows for self-expression, an acceptance and tolerance of human nature, and a greater awareness of the human condition. The actualization of personal moral ideals affects participation in socially useful and ethically acceptable work.

To fully understand the essence of self-realization, the corollary concepts of self-actualization and individuation and the interrelated concept of self-disclosure are included. Self-realization, with its focus on human potential and what it means to be human, derives from humanistic psychology.

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Historical Underpinnings

A variety of philosophers, theologians, and literary figures contributed to insights into what it means to be fully human, the cornerstone to humanistic psychology. The texts date back to antiquity, yet continue to shape understanding and influence the teaching and practice of business ethics today.

Prehistory includes the role of the Greek epic, most notably the work of Homer, who created the image of the individual as hero and of life as quest or an adventure. Socrates articulated the practice of dialogue, dialectical conversations that sought deeper truths through examination of daily life. Socratic discourse was both ethical and personal with its focus on achieving character and virtue through knowledge. Plato focused on the values of true and good as ends in themselves. Justice was the paramount virtue or the sum virtue with regard to one's relations with others. Aristotle's theory of virtue helped define the excellent man as one who excelled in leading a truly human life by adhering to intellectual and moral virtues. The notion of goodness, with its end state of fulfillment or excellence, was found within the context of society. Virtue was regarded as individually and socially beneficial. These philosophers underscored that living a morally good life involved justice, virtue, and character.

The 19th century marked the emergence of existentialist philosophy. Kierkegaard emphasized a humanistic vision of truth where self-consciousness propelled the individual to reach his or her highest potential. Nietzsche focused on awakening, and creating through transformation, an image of a new individual or superman who would create authentic values. Existentialists maintained that individuals had an ethical obligation to self-understanding as part of a purposeful existence. The quest to be fully human was to push the individual to farther reaches with values at the core. The 20th century marked an inclusion of the individual's role as meaningfully understood based on his or her involvement in society. Most notably, Heidegger described the fullness of humanity as the result of being in the world. Buber's philosophy of dialogue and the relationship between I and thou defined self-development as the result of one in relationship to, and in dialogue with, others.

The focus of humanistic psychology was, and continues to be, on issues that help individuals understand themselves, others, and their environments. The role of self-realization emerged as the foundation to attaining one's fullest potential and becoming fully human. Philosophers and psychologists expanded humanistic psychology to include social interest, community awareness, and spiritual experiences, further supporting the value of pursuing the highest reaches of human achievement and potential.

The single person most responsible for establishing the field of humanistic psychology and most familiar to management studies is Maslow. He identifies a cohesive theory of the self and self-actualization by identifying a hierarchy of five needs. Physiological needs and safety, as low-order needs, are predominantly satisfied externally (i.e., pay, unions, contracts, and tenure). Social belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, as high-order needs, are internally satisfied. Maslow's theory was a psychology of the whole person.

Neither the theory nor the practice of humanistic psychology advocates self-seeking gratification. Seminal researchers of humanistic psychology committed their work to discovering ways to build cohesive relationships and communities. Because self-realization informs one's ethical and moral values and affects the larger society in which one lives, it is important to include its role and influence on business ethics and society.

Self-Realization & Self-Actualization

Psychology is culture bound and often limited by implicit assumptions that create reality. For example, how one manages his or her employees or seeks to establish company stakeholder relationships is embedded in social and cultural assumptions. Such assumptions are often removed from conscious awareness. Thus, the process of self-realization is to make these assumptions conscious.

The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from one's internal frame of reference. Self-realization is a process that brings one to this vantage point. Conscious thought reveals the true self—one unencumbered by the dictates of individual, group, or organizational expectations. Self-realization entails sensitivity to values and raises the question of how individuals prioritize such values, in general and in particular situations. The process involves moral awareness, thought, reasoning, judgment, and intuition. It is not narcissistic self-gratification.

As an ideal, self-realization represents the ultimate actualization of utilizing one's fullest capabilities. A person grows toward this ideal, defined as peak performance and peak experience, through self-discovery. Peak performance is the result of a clear focus on an event that culminates in a more efficient, creative, and productive result than would typically occur. Peak experience is characterized by a sense of profound significance, recognized as the moment of highest happiness and, often, a turning point in one's life. Both Page 1886 | Top of Articleterms are cited in management studies as phenomena that leaders, capable of effecting change in groups, organizations, and institutions, experience. Maslow found that self-actualizing people tend to be altruists and their work is equated to a calling or vocation.

Therefore, self-realization is not a goal to achieve but rather a corollary of an authentic life. It is cited in ethical theory because self-realization involves the recognition of one's potential and follows the second formulation of Kant's categorical imperative: that one should treat everyone, including oneself, as an end not merely as a means. This Kantian idea infers that individuals have the capacity for autonomous reasoning, with particular reference to moral judgments.

Second, it is accurate to define self-realization as a continuing process of determining one's role and contribution to society. Classical theories put forward by Plato and Aristotle state that individuals attain self-realization when they achieve their distinctive function—that is, the full development of their unique capacities. Distinctive function can be framed as moral guardianship or stewardship, concepts prevalent in the context of sustainability and the ethical mandate to contribute to sustainable environments. The process of self-realization yields one's sense of responsibility for the improvement of the world as it affects both oneself and others.

Third, implicit to self-realization is individual choice, where a person realizes and acts on his or her distinct capacities. Choosing to engage in society is the basis of individuality. Linguistic expressions of "I am" or "I do" signal ways of entering into relationships with others, the society, and the world. Yet action is personal, and self-realization functions as a tool to help determine what constitutes morally justifiable and socially useful work.

Related Constructs of Individuation and Self-Disclosure

A corollary to self-realization is the construct of individuation. Most aligned with Jung's psychology, individuation refers to a person's awareness of the ways in which he or she is different even though unseen and unrecognized by others. Individuation is a relational process based on one's awareness of his or her social environment.

Characteristics of highly individuated persons include being more creative, exhibiting more leadership behaviors, and displaying a greater willingness to express dissenting and sometimes critical opinions. Highly individuated persons influence social situations by leading others and by generating creative ideas and unusual solutions to problems. Further research, however, is needed to determine more specifically how situational contexts, such as various organizational cultures, differ in the extent to which they encourage individual differences. Given today's global business environment, there is value to assessing how national cultures that differ in terms of individualism and collectivism affect individuation. One can speculate that high individuators may have a stronger social impact in individualistic cultures than in collectivist cultures.

Finally, individuated persons have achieved a high level of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is often identified as contributing to having insight into the behavior of others and to having a greater awareness and tolerance of the human condition. This capacity of understanding is attributed to the integration of all aspects of one's personality. Self-integration correlates with self-disclosure, the second concept associated with the process of self-realization.

Self-disclosure is explicit communication of self-data that another would otherwise not have access to. Such information exchange is considered a private act that strengthens relationships, expresses emotional experiences, clarifies personal beliefs and opinions, and maintains social control and privacy. Self-disclosure facilitates the movement from self-alienation to self-integration; in other words, self-realization is the byproduct of one disclosing himself or herself to another. It presumes authentic dialogue where both parties make themselves vulnerable and available to one another. Elements of trustworthiness, safety, and security are associated with this discourse. The choice to fully disclose and be vulnerable with one person ensures an aspect of mental health that guards against the fragmentation and alienation characteristic of modern life, as also experienced in many business environments. The distinguishing features of self-disclosure include the reciprocal exchange of ideas and using dialogue as the chosen method of communication—two elements cited as part of achieving systems change and organizational learning.

Ties to Management

Humanistic psychology influences management theories of motivation. It has helped advance the view of the employee as a social, and not a purely economic, as evidenced in the human relations model of management practice.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is one of the most enduring theories in management, where self-esteem and self-actualization needs are accepted without question. The ideal of the self-realized person emerged as an implicit and central concept in the seminal management theories of organizational behaviorists Argyris and Herzberg and theorists on work and job design such as Hackman and Oldham. Encouraging participative supervisory and leadership styles, designing appropriate forms of work organization for employees to experience self-actualization, and Theory Y leadership are related to the functions of self-realization.

Examples of self-actualizing behavior include the campaigning for better working conditions for one's coworkers, exposing financial irregularities, and opposing the manufacture of environmentally unfriendly products. The process of self-realization allows one to go beyond the limited context of increased productivity in the immediate job to encompass a wider concern for organizational policy and the role of the organization within a local and global community. Self-realization and individual maturation, which includes moral development, is a central theme that surfaces in the works of Argyris, Herzberg, and Trist, who recognized the relationship between employee development and organizational effectiveness.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was an upsurge of writing challenging the classical management theories of bureaucracy, the role of autocratic leadership, and viewing employees as economic beings. Behavioral theories of management championed new organizational forms that were more human and facilitative of individual self-realization. Employees were recognized as individuals with social needs, thus linking interpersonal relationships to enhanced organizational performance. In the 1980s and 1990s, although the terms empowerment and self-fulfillment tended to be management parlance for self-realization, meaningfulness of work was deemed important and operationalized as part of one's personal value system. Autonomy in the workplace assumed a position of being a necessary condition for self-realization or personal growth. Today, personal and organizational values are being aligned with those values deemed important in the larger social environment, such as trust, integrity, and security. Ethical business practices are frequently measured against these parameters.

Impact on Business Ethics and Society

The discussion of self-realization, with its roots in humanistic psychology, suggests that the concept be examined at a deeper level to fully realize its role in informing business ethics and society. For one, humanistic psychology emphasizes the role of personal change in self-discovery and in the identifying of one's place in society. There is a continuing need to remind business and society of the dignity and worth of being human—something that gets lost in the day-to-day machinations of doing business. In a broader sense, the question of what it means to be human is quite relevant at a time of assessing the impacts of corporate megamergers and multinational and transnational companies, which can leave employees feeling disenfranchised, adding to the feelings of alienation. Maintaining self-realization as part of management and business practice keeps the focus on human capital as a resource that benefits business and society.

Second, the role of self-realization in workplace autonomy, creativity, and innovation suggests that managers understand that people are not only productive assets but also social beings. There is recognition that employee performance is related to employee achievement of personal effectiveness. The conditions that lead to peak performance and peak experience, associated with high-performing teams and effective leadership, are part of the operationalizing of self-realizing individuals.

Third, inherent in the work of self-realizing is the articulation of those virtues that comprise and guide one's ethical choices. Entering into an understanding of one's own potential reveals the larger network of relationships that has shaped one's worldview. For example, a person's religion, family, ethnic, and cultural affiliations influence and shape his or her attitudes to and behaviors comprising right and wrong. This is not an abstract reality; rather, it shapes the strategic choices that culminate in daily business operations. Since business does not function independent of its social environment, the actions that result from self-realized individuals inform the social contract.

Finally, self-realization is often linked to transformation. Transformation occurs when ordinary perspectives shift and the person gains new insights and self-understanding. Self-realization as a transformative process is about how a person can reach his or her fullest potential and how that potential translates as Page 1888 | Top of Articleservice to society. Today's social entrepreneurs and social venture partners are examples. Noted as part of the citizen sector movement committed to closing the business-social gap, social entrepreneurs and social venture partners bring entrepreneurial talent to the addressing of social problems. The need for a strong ethical fiber is cited as a necessary ingredient to the success of these ventures. Self-realization is about one's own authenticity and values and how those values influence one's daily ethical approach to business transactions. This is in contrast, and perhaps an antidote, to the excessive greed and egoism evident in many corporate organizations today.

See also

Further Readings

Badaracco, J. L. (1998). The discipline of building character. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 39-48.

Bornstein, D. (2004). How to change the world: Social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas. Madison, NY: Oxford University Press.

Buber, M. (1970). I and thou (W. Kaufman, Trans.) New York: Scribner. (Original work, Ich und Du, published 1923)

Drayton, W. (2002). The citizen sector: Becoming as entrepreneurial and competitive as business. California Management Review, 44(3), 120-132.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1927)

Kierkegaard, S. (1959). Either/or (Vol. 2, W. Lowrie, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1859)

Maclagan, P. (2003). Self-actualisation as a moral concept and the implications for motivation in organizations: A Kantian argument. Business Ethics: A European Review, 12(4), 334-342.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being. New York: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: Viking.

Morris, T. V. (1997). If Aristotle ran General Motors. New York: Henry Holt & Co.

Nietzsche, F. (1966). Beyond good and evil. (W. Kaufman, Trans.) New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1886)

Novak, M. (1996). Business as calling: Work and the examined life. New York: The Free Press.

Schneider, K. J., Bugental, J. F. T., & Pierson, J. F. (2001). The handbook of humanistic psychology: Leading edges in theory, research and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Solomon, R. C. (1992). Ethics and excellence: Cooperation and integrity in business. New York: Oxford University Press.

Solomon, R. C. (2004). Aristotle, ethics and business organizations. Organization Studies, 25(6), 1021-1043.

Updegraff, S. (2004). Maximizing human potential: Tips to foster personal effectiveness. Employment Relations Today, 31(1), 43-50.


Source Citation: Simms, Michele. "Self–Realization." Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society. Ed. Robert Kolb. Vol. 4. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc., 2008. 1884-1888. 5 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. University of the South. 11 Mar. 2009 [1]