A funny thing happened to me last week - I went to see a comedian and I learned something important about self-esteem. I’ll tell you that story a little later. If you are a leader within an organization, I believe it is your duty to foster an environment in which the people you lead can build their self-esteem. When you do this effectively, your team members will become more confident, better individual performers, better teammates, and then leaders themselves. There are many articles about leaders and their own self-esteem, but not enough about the duty leaders have in influencing how others build it in themselves.
Self-Esteem. Psychologists tell us self-esteem is how we feel about our own positive or negative evaluation of ourself. For example, when we under-perform in some way and we know it, how do we feel about ourself afterwards and for how long? When I was a kid I loved baseball and played it all the time. I really got mad at myself when I struck-out. Because I had good self-esteem, by the next time I got up to the plate, I usually had confidence enough to believe I was going to hit a home run. However, if I struck out again, my self-esteem went down and I began to have doubts and thought, “I just want to make contact.” Since I had nice youth coaches and parents who helped me at those critical times, and made sure I didn’t beat myself up too much, I maintained good self-esteem. If I had had coaches who told me how bad I was or just ignored me, and then benched me, my self-esteem toward baseball, at least, would have been very low and I might have wanted to quit.
Each of these kinds of events and how our mind deals with them forms our self-esteem. While a leader cannot make a person feel a certain way, they can influence how a person evaluates himself/herself and, thus, influence one’s self-esteem.
What I Learned from Ron White. I can’t believe I actually learned a lesson about self-esteem from my evening watching Ron White live at the Portsmouth Music Hall. Ron White is a comedian who became famous when he joined Jeff Foxworthy on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. His humor is not for everyone and, frankly, I think he could do just fine if he left out the profanity and several other unnecessary risqué bits. Before he told us a crazy personal experience he had on Dr. Phil's luxury boat in Monaco, he told us he is a close friend of Dr. Phil and respects him a great deal. He shared with us the best advice Dr. Phil ever gave him. When White was trying to raise his teenage son he asked Dr. Phil what advice he had to make sure his son grew-up with good self-esteem. Dr. Phil said, “Make him finish what he starts. Then help him see what value he brought to the effort.”
Make Them Finish What They Start / Help Them See Their Value. I think this alone is great advice for parents and leaders. Children and adults who don’t “finish what they start” miss-out on that feeling you get when a project or task is completed. Even projects that have imperfect outcomes, like my 8th grade science project, have positive effects on self-esteem. When we let people “quit”, which I see parents do all the time because they feel badly for their child, they may actually be helping the person lower their self-esteem.
Three Steps for Leaders to Help Others Build their Self-Esteem. While I think there are many things leaders can do to influence how others build their self-esteem, here are three simple steps you can put into action right away.
- Encourage people to take on new projects or tasks, especially ones that stretch them. Let them know you believe they can do it; you believe in them.
- Monitor and coach them through completion. Encourage them when they are “discouraged” and give them constructive suggestions when they are feeling good about the effort.
- When the project is completed, regardless of the outcome, help them “feel” what value they brought to the effort. And, most importantly, try to help them not “beat themselves up” when you discuss what they could have done more effectively. Poor leaders avoid talking about the things that could have been done better, which in many cases actually enables the person to lower their self-esteem.
Obviously, each of us is in charge of our own self-esteem. We need to build and maintain it if we want to be quality contributors to our teams and organizations. As leaders we need to remember it is our duty to build a culture that positively influences how self-esteem can grow. My final suggestion - go watch comedy shows, it may strike you as funny where you might find inspiration!