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Self-Esteem and Leadership

A person's self-esteem and leadership success are closely intertwined. Discover how this leader's low self-esteem almost cost his his career. Make sure you avoid the same mistakes!

How closely is your self-esteem and leadership career success linked? Quite closely! This article is to help you understand why building your self-esteem is crucial to your career. Then in the following articles we look at ways for you to build your self-esteem.


Here's an example when one of my client's self-esteem limited his performance. (Obviously, names have been changed).

Steve had several people reporting to him and his business unit was performing pretty well. He was reasonably confident that he would receive a promotion within the next six months.

This was a particularly busy time for Steve's team, with several major projects on the horizon. A vacancy in his team had come up, and it was vital to fill it quickly. Steve needed someone that he could depend upon, who had proven success at project management. Steve thought he knew just the man for the job - Pierre - a fellow he had worked with at his previous company.


Pierre had always been a good solid performer if somewhat lacking in self-confidence. But he had never let Steve down, and Steve felt that this job would be just the right stepping stone for Pierre's career.

Unquestionably, the job was bigger than Pierre's current role. But Steve was confident that Pierre would be up for the challenge. Particularly with his support and guidance as Pierre's leader. So, Steve approached Pierre and asked him to apply for the role.



Steve Stakes His Reputation


During the selection process, several of the recruiters spoke to Steve about their concerns at Pierre's seeming lack of confidence. Each time, Steve brushed aside their concerns with a "Trust me, Pierre will be fine. He's a great performer. He's solid, reliable, and can be counted upon." Eventually, Pierre was offered the role.


Given the pressures, they were under Steve, and his team were keen for Pierre to start within the month. But that wasn't to be. There was a two-month delay, while Pierre tidied up some personal issues. Steve assured his team that even though it was longer than they'd like, the delay would be worth it as Pierre was terrific.


The day before Pierre was due to start. Steve received a phone call: "Look, mate, I'm sorry. But I don't think this job is right for me. I've given it a lot of thought, and I don't think I can do it. Sorry to let you down, I know you went out on a limb for me".

A hit to Steve's self-esteem: Leadership went out the door

Steve was shocked. Thoughts raced through his mind, like speeding bullets, each thought was like a knife stabbing him:

  • How could Pierre do this to him? Yes, he had gone out on a limb, convincing his peers that Pierre would be right. Taking on extra work as he held things together during the two-month delay.
  • What would people think? This whole situation was going to reflect poorly on him. He would be a laughing-stock.
  • What would his manager think? He had let Steve know, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't confident in his choice. But he would abide by Steve's decision.
  • What was he going to do? He would lose credibility and confidence with his peers and his leadership team. What about his promotion?

And in that state of panic, he let Pierre have it. Full barrels blazing. He was angry and upset. He certainly had no empathy for Pierre's situation.

Your 'Esteem' is showing when you overly focus on what 'They' think

We've all had moments similar to this. Moments when, because of your very association with a person, you've felt embarrassed or ashamed because the other person's actions (you think) reflect badly on you. (Ever seen a parent in a supermarket trying to deal with a child having a hissy fit?).

Psychology tells us that self-esteem is based, in part, on the values and opinions of others, your life experiences, and the social comparisons that you make.


You build or demolish your sense of self-worth through your reference groups. These are the groups/people that you compare yourself against and the groups/people that you associate with.

You perceive yourself as either better than or worse than others (known as upward or downward social comparisons).

When you are overly concerned about what 'they' will think, you are showing, in flying colors, exactly how high/low your self-esteem and leadership strength is.

As a leader, there has been, and no doubt will be many more, times when people you rely upon let you down or goof up. It is a measure of your self-esteem as to how you handle the event.

A person with low self-esteem will be highly worried about the opinions of their reference group and less concerned about the person who has made the mistake. Consequently, if someone goofs up, you are more likely to have a volatile reaction. You're probably going to be more focused on your own needs and desires to look good than the needs of the person/(s) whose actions you're embarrassed by.

When a direct report 'goofs up', a person with low self-esteem will be highly worried about the opinions of their reference group and less concerned about the person who has made the mistake. 


Steve's Reaction Showed His Self-Esteem Needed Work


With Steve's first thoughts traveling to what others would say, and their impressions of him, and his angry response to Pierre, you could guess that his self-esteem and leadership skills need some more work.

If Steve had higher self-esteem and leadership skills, his response might be more useful for finding a solution. Sure, he'd still be disappointed and probably frustrated. However, he may have avoided the wasted time and energy being caught up in anger and embarrassment and worrying about saving face.

He may have been able to work with Pierre to understand what caused him to have wobbly feet. He may have even been able to help him overcome his fears and begin the new job!

Final comments on self-esteem and leadership

When you work on strengthening your inner world ... having internal confidence and certainty about who you are as a person ... you will find that your leadership will become far more graceful.

Do yourself and everyone else around you a favor ... continually grow your self-esteem and leadership so that you bring out the best in yourself.


Now that you've got a handle on why high self-esteem is so important to your leadership career - check out the articles below to let you know how to grow your self-esteem.

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