It is easy to become convinced that leadership is something that is externally focused or outward looking. After all, often a leader will manage their team’s activity, set deadlines and review the performance of others. All of these activities are outwardly focused.
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 portion of leadership comes from within. How much you care about yourself, respect yourself and hold yourself to certain standards matters.
I’ve worked with leaders in large organisations who needed to “take charge”, even in areas that they had no experience with. More experienced people were there to help, but their expertise went unharnessed 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, so they looked like they were the boss.
I can tell you that the results were laughable. Seemingly many of these leaders don’t realise that the credibility they gain by being “in charge” is completely eroded when it is clear that they are out of their depth.
High self esteem and leadership are great partners
The best leaders I’ve observed 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 comprised of self respect and self confidence. When a leader has respect for herself, she looks out for her own wellbeing, tries not to criticise herself too harshly and sets boundaries for what is acceptable to undertake.
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?
I argue no, because self-respecting leaders understand the importance of looking after oneself. If they understand it for themselves, then they understand that others operate in a similar fashion – meaning that they will be 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?
Leaders with high self esteem are likely to accept feedback more readily
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. They are self assured. They know that they are not a bad person because of negative feedback and they 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, because they feel that taking it on is a sign of weakness. Instead, they may perceive the feedback as “wrong”.
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, but this doesn’t mean that they need to make them unilaterally.
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 everything themselves. They feel as if they don’t come up with the ideas, then they aren’t doing their job.
On the contrary, sometimes a leader’s job is to facilitate discussions that produce the best ideas, rather than to create them single handed.
Leaders with high self esteem back themselves and 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 their team members 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 as readily, 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”. Less likely to speak out against wrongdoing and the status quo, they are more worried about keeping their job than doing the right thing.
Self esteem is a critical factor in leadership. One might think that high self esteem creates behaviours characterised by arrogance or overconfidence. On the other hand, 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 assured counterparts.
Which type of leader are you?