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Confident Leadership Isn’t Enough for Resiliency

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Resiliency, which is desperately needed right now, comes from high self-esteem among leaders, not just confidence. You may already be aware that self-confidence and self-esteem are not the same thing. Still, too many people (who ought to know better!) use the terms interchangeably, especially in reference to leadership. That is a dangerous misunderstanding to foster, since a leader who doesn’t recognize the difference may be unable to create a resilient organization—no matter how confident they are as a leader.

The Distinction Between Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

As a refresher, self-confident leaders are clear about what they can and can’t do, and trust in their abilities, both in their work, and the world at large. By contrast, leaders’ self-esteem comes from a strong sense of their personal worth and inner self-respect. It is entirely possible, based on documented research, that a leader can have high confidence and low self-esteem, or have high levels of both qualities. The distinctive behaviors of these two leaders – high confidence only, or combined high confidence and high self-esteem – are very telling.

A leader who has high self-confidence is willing to take on challenges and considered risks, while taking ownership of their actions. They realize they will experience failure, but they pick themselves up, and then try a fresh approach. Of course, the more leaders are successful, the more confidence they gain. This behavior is independent of their self-esteem, which is why confidence is often mistaken for self-esteem.

If the leader has high self-confidence, but low self-esteem, they will tend to rely on external validation of their worth, such as income, status, and recognition, or lean on crutches such as over-working, shopping, alcohol, drugs, or sex. They are likely to take on too much responsibility, wearing themselves thin energetically. These leaders are often critical of themselves, and therefore of their teams as well. Because they get their sense of self-worth from external validation, they have a hard time saying no and setting boundaries for themselves. Additionally, they have a difficult time receiving feedback, so they actively avoid it, often without full awareness of their own behavior.

The Importance of Self-Esteem for Resiliency

It is clear that confident leaders show up with the following highly desirable strengths:

  1. Appreciating and trusting their abilities

  2. Unafraid of being wrong

  3. Non-judgmental

  4. Accountable to their commitments

  5. Open to receiving help and resources

  6. Adaptable and flexible

Why, then, are these oft-cited qualities of great leadership not enough for resiliency? First, let’s look at what resiliency really is: the ability to recover from stress, conflict, failure and challenges. This ability stems from a positive and accepting, compassionate view of oneself; the essential qualities of self-esteem. Leaders with high self-esteem have the following additional qualities, above and beyond those of confidence:

  1. Good self-care (Activities including enough rest and relaxation, healthy diet and exercise, strong relationships, and belonging to a supportive community ensure both sustained energy and relief outlets during stressful times.)

  2. Avoiding negative self-talk (Allowing a continuous, uninterrupted stream of negative inner dialog amplifies conflict and failure to unmanageable proportions very quickly.)

  3. Being able to say “yes” and “no” when you choose (The dependence on other people’s approval can quickly deplete personal boundaries and energy, as well as creating a reactive, unpredictable strategy and plan.)

  4. Accepting shortcomings and limitations (When we recognize areas for improvement, we are able to learn new things, alter our approach, and strengthen areas needing improvement.)

  5. Resilience (The essence of resilience is creativity and growth, where, by contrast, confidence alone can become rigid and restrictive.)

How Leaders Impact Their Organization’s Resiliency

When a leader lacks self-esteem—not managing their stress, criticizing themselves and others, over-extending themselves, and lacking personal boundaries—the entire culture obviously suffers. These leaders are lacking in the core attributes necessary for resiliency, and the organization cannot manufacture enough on its own to carry all the team and the leaders as well.

By contrast, resilient leaders (who have the needed self-esteem) demonstrate continual, calm, focused support of an organization’s values, mission and vision through their words and actions. They also effectively communicate their plans to recover balance and strategic direction, encouraging strong attachment to the course of action (rather than criticize divergence from it). This reservoir of commitment encourages a higher tolerance for uncertainty and perseverance from everyone involved in the face of threat.

It has been repeatedly proven that a strong, clear set of values, mission and vision is strong empowers members of the organization view their work as significant. This improves job satisfaction, reduces job turnover, and allows the organization to more readily overcome adversity.

Are you ready to grow your confidence and self-esteem as a leader? Reach out to me here:

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