What could be harmful about self-esteem? Isn't it what we want our employees and our kids to have?
Sure, but let's be careful with the way we encourage it.
Praise, resilience and self-esteem
Kids brought up on a diet of praise, regardless of how well they are really achieving are less resilient. They can be shattered when they face the inevitable knockbacks of the real world.
Let's make our praise for children and employees worth something. We should ensure that our love for children and our fundamental respect for our employees is unconditional, but reserve our praise for real effort or real achievement.
But isn't self-esteem the key to motivation and achievement?
No. Researchers find only a tenuous link between self-esteem and achievement - and think the achievement probably comes first.
Most of us have more self-esteem and optimism than we can justify. We believe we are more successful, influential, popular and skilled than we are by any objective measure. Try asking a large audience 'Who believes their driving skills are above average'? I did that recently and about 80 per cent raised their hands. That's about the usual proportion.
There's something harmful about self-esteem...
It comes when we link our self-esteem to our goals. If we decide that we will feel good about ourselves when we have been promoted, passed our exam or won 'Employee of the Year', we can become more fearful of failure. How many of us would do that to ourselves?
Jennifer Crocker from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research found that more than 80 per cent of students based their sense of self-worth on their academic achievements.
Those students were more motivated and studied more. Isn't that a good thing? Apparently not. They didn't get higher grades, were more stressed and more likely to be in conflict with the academic staff.
And there's no upside: their self-esteem didn't increase any more than those who didn't depend on their performance to feel good about themselves.
Let's feel good about ourselves because we live by our values - and for what we have achieved.