It is easy to become convinced that leadership is something that is about others. After all, often a leader will manage their team’s activity, set deadlines and review the performance of others. All of these activities are about other people.
It can be a trap to think that as a leader, you should simply focus on what is going on outside of yourself. If you order people around, review and provide feedback to others, then you’ll be fine, right? Well, not necessarily.
A significant part of leadership comes from within. The degree to which you respect yourself and hold yourself to high standards really matters.
I’ve worked with leaders in large organisations who needed to “take charge”, even in areas where they had little experience or knowledge. More experienced people were there to help, but their expertise went unused because these leaders couldn’t take advice.
These leaders feel vulnerable when they are out of their comfort zone. We all do, but instead of doing the smart thing, they were more likely to push their own agenda. To them, they looked like they were the boss.
I can tell you that the results were poor. Seemingly many of these leaders don’t realise that the credibility gained by being “in charge” completely disappears when everyone knows that they are struggling.
High self esteem and leadership are great partners
The best leaders I’ve seen are confident and self-assured. They don’t have all the answers and they don’t always need to be right.
High self esteem and leadership are great partners because self esteem is made up of self respect and self confidence. When a leader has respect for herself, she looks out for her own wellbeing. She tries not to criticise herself too much and sets boundaries for what is acceptable behaviour.
When you have respect for yourself, you are more likely to have respect for others. Now why would this be the case? Surely if you respect yourself, wouldn’t you be more self-serving, more selfish and less likely to look after the wellbeing of others?
No, because self-respecting leaders understand the importance of looking after themselves. If they understand it for themselves, then they understand that others operate in a similar fashion. Therefore leaders with high self-esteem are more likely to look after the wellbeing of those around them.
High self esteem leadership behaviours
Let’s examine some behaviours of leaders with high self esteem. Is this how you behave, or do you show some of the opposite characteristics?
1. Leaders with high self esteem are likely to accept feedback
Accepting good feedback is easy. Not so for negative feedback. Even a leader with high self esteem is likely to be impacted by negative feedback, but they won’t let it stop them.
Leaders with high self esteem can see the bigger picture, to try to improve. These leaders are self assured. They know that they are not a bad person because of negative feedback. They also know that feedback is simply a piece of input which doesn’t impact their whole character.
In contrast, leaders with low self esteem are likely to reject negative feedback. They feel that taking it on is a sign of weakness. Instead, they may say the feedback is “wrong”.
2. Leaders with high self esteem don’t need to have all the ideas
Leaders with high self esteem recognise that they don’t need to know everything. They are far more likely to accept input from others because they realise that doing so doesn’t make them a bad leader. They recognise that a leader’s job is to make good decisions. This doesn’t mean that they need to make them all alone.
In contrast, leaders with low self esteem need to make themselves feel important. They spend time justifying their position. One way to do this is to come up with all the ideas themselves. Otherwise, they feel as if they aren’t doing their job.
3. Leaders with high self esteem back themselves and support their team
Leaders with high self esteem believe in themselves and their teams. They have self confidence, without being arrogant. They stand up for themselves and support their team members. This is because they feel as if they have credibility and something to contribute.
Leaders with high self esteem are more likely to speak up about issues, because they aren’t scared of losing their jobs. They believe somebody else will find their skills useful and another job will be found down the road. Better to leave a job that forces you to compromise your integrity, than to damage your character. After all, leaders need to be able to sleep at night and live with their actions.
Leaders with low self esteem won’t back themselves, because they fear being wrong. They will take the word of authority above their own and take the less risky approach of “going with the flow”. They are less likely to speak out against wrongdoing and will keep the status quo. In fact, they are more worried about keeping their job than doing the right thing.
Self esteem is a critical factor in leadership. You might think that high self esteem creates arrogance or overconfidence. I’ve found the opposite to be true.
High self esteem creates conditions where leaders aren’t afraid to be wrong, speak out about issues and take feedback more readily than their less confident counterparts.
Which type of leader are you? And which do you want to be?