The Role of Self-Esteem in Leadership

Leaders have high self-esteem and a positive self-image. They value themselves and feel worthwhile.

Self-esteem is simply how much you like yourself. An important part of self-esteem is self-efficacy. It is a feeling of competence, of being good at what you do, and being capable of achieving the results you need to achieve as a leader.

Self-esteem is important because the way you feel inside, the beliefs and ideas that you have about yourself, is going to guide the way you perform on the outside. According to Steve Rodgers, the former CEO of Prudential Bache California Realty, “The way you feel about yourself has everything to do with how you perform as an individual in your own work and as a manager of people.”

Being a leader requires calm, clarity, persistence, the ability to see the world as it truly is, and many other qualities that are impossible if the leader is wrestling with self-doubt and feelings of inferiority.

The Keys to High Self-Esteem

Leaders know themselves. Like the Delphic Oracle, they have a very high level of self-awareness. They take a good deal of time for introspection; they know what makes them tick. They know their own motives and why they do what they do. They are also capable of being very objective with themselves rather than overly emotionally involved. In other words, they have low egos but high pride.

They also only take on tasks that they can perform at an excellent level. Because they know themselves, they will not take on a job, task, or assignment where they do not have the ability to do it extremely well. They know that everything they do contributes to their overall image as a leader, so they will only take on things they can do well.

They focus on their unique strengths and ask, “Is this the sort of thing I can excel at and have the qualities and abilities to perform exceptionally?” And if they can't perform exceptionally, they'll back off. They are always looking for superior results and not just average results.

They also have self-honesty. They evaluate themselves honestly. They are not arrogant or prideful or vain or boastful. They have the ability to look into themselves and ask, “Is this right for me? Is this the right step for me to be taking at this time?”

How Do You Treat Others?

Leaders with high self-esteem are nondefensive. They are secure enough to learn from mistakes and deal with setbacks. A nonleader will not have the inner strength to overcome mistakes or confront adversity.

Nor will nonleaders have the self-esteem to recognize that they have both strengths and weaknesses. Leaders recognize their areas of strengths but have also identified their weaknesses and set about to overcome them. There is a difference between whining about weaknesses and dealing with them calmly and honestly. That difference comes from self-esteem Leaders recognize that they are not perfect, but know that they are still competent and skilled.

One sign of people with low self-esteem is in the way they treat others. People with low self-esteem will overcompensate by treating others poorly, just to make themselves feel better. Effective leaders treat everyone, the weak and the powerful, the same way. Richard Branson, the charismatic founder of the Virgin Group, once disguised himself as a limo driver for a television series based on The Apprentice. He then watched to see how the entrepreneurs being tested on the show treated him. Those who treated him poorly were fired. They did not have what it takes to be an effective leader.

Believe in Yourself

Self-esteem begins with being good at what you do. Leaders commit themselves to excellent performance. They will accept nothing else from themselves or others. They want to be in the top 10 percent of their field.

Achieving high levels of performance is the way that people with low self-esteem can escape the trap of low self-esteem. It begins with realizing that anything is possible. I came from a poor background with few opportunities, and because of this background, I suffered from low self-esteem that held me back. Even if I did something well, I refused to take credit, passing it off to luck or coincidence. It wasn't until I was twenty-eight that I had a revelation that changed my life. This revelation was that every single person in the top 10 percent of his or her field had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was often in the bottom 10 percent. Everyone doing well today was once doing poorly.

From that point, I took responsibility for developing myself. I realized that life is a self-serve buffet line, and it was up to me to get up, accept responsibility, and “serve” myself. There are two steps necessary to get to the front of the buffet line: First, get in line, and second, stay in line. Getting in line means making the decision to improve yourself, every day, working toward your goals. Staying in line means not giving up, not making a short-lived attempt at improving yourself and then going back to watching television and being a victim

When Bob Silver went to one of my seminars in Chicago, he was twice divorced, overweight, unemployed, and deep in debt. He believed that all his problems were caused by others or by fate. Life was unfair, and that's all there was to it. He came to my seminar at the insistence of a friend, but he wasn't happy to be there because he didn't believe in all that “motivational stuff.” But when I said that nature was neutral, and that you are what you are because of yourself and nothing else, Bob Silver suddenly realized that he, not life, was the problem He was holding himself back because of his attitude, because of his focus on what he didn't have instead of what he wanted. From that point on he decided to change his life, and within one year, he was employed and had been promoted twice, he had lost thirty pounds, and he was happily remarried. High self-esteem can turn your life around.

High self-esteem means believing in yourself. It will give you the persistence and focus to stay in line.

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