Are You a Thinker for Change? It May be Easier Than You Think.

think out loud

Ever thought of yourself as a leader? If so, what kind of leader? Do you lead by example? By showing others? By exuding confidence? Or do you do it simply by thinking?

Cognitive leadership is growing and changing the world. Let me share with you what I mean.

I believe that cognitive leadership has helped tremendously in the fight for the human rights of the GLBTQI community. Such a change in thinking has given the GLBTQI community a voice and a confidence that we have not seen before. I think you would probably agree that the notion that we are now in the age of being heavily influenced by social media is an understatement, yes?

Well, even if we do not aspire to being interested in pop culture or impacted by television or movies, most of us are privy to names like Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway, and/or Neil Patrick Harris despite our desire to run the other way. They are hard to miss and they are leaders because they think loudly.

Yep, that’s right. They think loudly.

Not only are they prominent entertainers, but they have all spoken out very loudly in their support of gay rights, either by being gay themselves with no apology or being empathetic of those who are. By these thoughts, that have led to actions, some inadvertently, they have become cognitive leaders of our time. By being such leaders, in the way they behave, engage and motivate others, as well as inform the public, they have unconsciously influenced others’ behaviors and ways of thinking (Lord & Brown, 2001 as cited in Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). They have presented to the public certain values that have created change in others.

For instance, many of us may remember Neil Patrick Harris as the little boy who played Doogie Howser on television – a cute little boy that was never in any sort of trouble that many young stars find themselves in. He grew up to become a well-respected entertainer and was also very open about being gay, despite playing a pompous heterosexual playboy in How I Met Your Mother. He is now married to his partner and they have adopted two children. He has become the poster child for a “normal” guy when, for a long while, being gay was considered “abnormal.”  He has become a cognitive leader that has influenced many people who may not have necessarily thought this of the gay community beforehand.

An important part of the cognitive leadership role is self-concept. Self-concept consists of a multiple identity of our self-views, current goals, and our possible selves (Lord & Brown 2004 as cited in Avolio, et al., 2009). A leader “activates a specific identity to which followers can relate, creating a collective identity that the follower ultimately embraces as his or her own” (Lord & Brown, 2001 as cited in Avolio, et al., 2009, p. 427). The public related to Neil Patrick Harris. Whether they wanted to or not.

And what about Ellen Degeneres? She came out on television way before the public was ready to embrace that cognitive idea. But she forged ahead anyway. Now, her healthy self concept, her no apologies, here I am regardless of whether you are comfortable or not attitude has helped breed acceptance in others. That’s a cognitive leader, people. By seeing her make fun of herself, dance shamelessly, and be in love with her wife just like any heterosexual couple (imagine that!), she has bridged a gap between her actions and her follower’s actions and thoughts.

People such as this are seen as strong individuals with likeable personalities who have surpassed the bullying and the name calling and have, in turn, helped change the behaviors and attitudes of others (Homan, 2011). They have made it safer for those who are gay to come out and they have made it normal to be gay.  By having wonderful self-concepts that are hard to ignore, Ellen and Neil are examples of cognitive leaders that “motivate and develop followers into better followers or leaders themselves” (p. 427).

What leaders who adhere to this theory manage to do, whether on purpose or accidentally, is to build a new schema or concept of an ideal. They have a sense of power, which is the “capacity to move people in a desired direction to accomplish some end” (Homan, 2011, p. 154). They have a willingness to use that power through the use of the large network of social media with a plethora of constituencies (Homan, 2011).

When such positive role models who also happen to be gay are out there displaying healthy self-concepts, and showing that they are just like anyone else but uniquely his or her own self as well, this not only changes perceptions, but changes overall ideals. I am proud to be a part of a world that has strong female and male figures who are also part of the GLBTQI community and are changing the world’s thinking for the better. Such cognitive leaders have helped expand the minds of others and helped our world as a whole embrace positive social change. Kudos to them.

So, go ahead. Think out loud. Change the world.


Homan, M. S. (2011). Promoting community change: Making it happen in the real world (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. Chapter 6, “Power” (pp. 153–178), Chapter 7, “Powerful Planning” (pp. 179–205)

Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Weber, T. J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 421–449.

What Needs Are: The Theory and the Reality


Maslow (1943) described needs in a “hierarchy of prepotency” whereby one seemingly more important need must be met before another need is to be addressed (p. 370). He also believed that as humans we are “perpetually wanting animal[s]” (Maslow, 1943, p. 370). Sounds about right.

His hierarchy of needs, beginning with the most basic physiological needs such as food and shelter, up to the ultimate seemingly elusive levels of that called self actualization and self-transcendence has been adapted for use in everything from those working in clinical psychology to nurses working with patients to business applications in the financial world (Myers, 2009). Over time, there has been speculation about the exceptions to these various needs that Maslow proposed. For instance, someone on a hunger strike in order to protest a political stance or someone who continually works against relationship cohesiveness may be seen as defying the very levels of Maslow’s theoretical approach to motivation (Apter, 2001; Myers, 2009). Most likely, you may have defied this theory a time or two as well.

In looking at my own life, I can see where Maslow’s theory has certainly resonated well and also where my behaviors have dictated a different sequence of levels. For instance, there was a time in my life where money and the means for extras in my life was nearly non-existent. My first husband, who died in 1996, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease Stage IIIB a year after we were married and he spent the next seven years in and out of the hospital. He went through bouts of chemotherapy, radiation, and even had a bone marrow transplant. He went through two remissions before cancer took his life. He was only 27. I was 26. Did it mess up my need sequence a bit? Damn straight it did.

In the process of his treatment, our physiological needs were of the upmost importance. But in order to make sure that he received the medical care he needed, we were forced to move out of a home that provided safety and security for us. We moved to a smaller, decrepit rental home in a terrible part of town because safety was not near as important as his treatment.

When I think back to that dark time, I realize that for my husband, self esteem was a big part of his treatment. He was not safe, and he was not secure. He was incredibly weak and unhealthy in body and sometimes in spirit. But it was important for him to have independence and to belong to counteract both. He did not want to be separated from family and friends. In retrospect, I believe that my husband actually attempted to achieve a level that Maslow postulated later in his life called self transcendence (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Self transcendence is the “need to find meaning and identity beyond the self” (Myers, 2006, p. 237) and my late husband spent ample time doing just that. Maslow claimed we couldn’t pull this off until the lower needs were met such as safety and physiological needs were met. Using my husband as an example, I am not so sure. His ability to be happy and seek out joy and rise above would clearly defy the ideal that one must achieve the lower levels before reaching the higher levels. So, in my personal experience, I would venture to say that facing death and illness can certainly create a different sort of subjective hierarchy for the participant.

After his death, I attempted to explore an identity beyond myself as well. My self esteem was gone and I was lonely and angry. I tried to explore my spirituality and the meaning behind what had transpired. Reading Koltlo-Riveria (2006), I can see that it would not have been possible, as I was in an ego state that would not allow me to look beyond myself and my experience. I suppose in that time after my husband’s death, I was more in need of belonging and love, the third tier of Maslow’s hierarchy, than even safety and physiological needs. I had lost a lot of weight due to barely eating and felt completely unstable but I clung to friends and family and even strangers and engaged in some terribly unhealthy relationships because I needed that love and support, both real and fantasy, more than anything else. You do what you gotta do to get through sometimes, right?

I am a staunch believer is Maslow’s theory, but when looking at my own behaviors I can see that that the levels of the hierarchy can be very subjective depending on the situation. Maslow (1943) noted that humans change their philosophy of life depending on the dominating need at hand. Such emergency situations are not norm, but when they do arise, he was willing to admit that a need, regardless of what it is, can be all consuming (Maslow, 1943). I remember believing, at the time, that if my husband would just live, nothing else would matter. I would live in that awful rental for the rest of my days. I would not eat. If only. It was all consuming. He has been gone for almost 20 years now, which seems unfathomable to me. Clearly, now remarried with a teenage son from my second husband whom I love dearly, I have different feelings about my needs and what I am willing to give up or not and for whom. Maslow discussed our adaptability and our tolerance in conjunction. I believe that this interplay is much more complicated than just a pyramid of levels – resilience, desire, environment, and subjective experience are also crucial elements that can dictate the hierarchy.

So, what I am ultimately saying? We are not theories. We are people. Your journey is your own. And however you are pulling it off to get through it, that’s okay. Just keep going. The point is there is always another level to reach.

Just keep going.


Apter, M. J. (2001). An introduction to reversal theory. In M. J. Apter (Ed.), Motivational styles in everyday life: A guide to reversal theory (pp. 3–35). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006). Rediscovering the later version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of General Psychology, 10(4), 302–317.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Myers, D.G. (2009). Psychology in everyday life. Holland, MI: Holland, MI.