My organization once had a very talented CEO, Gene (not his real name). I respected his knowledge of our business and knew if I had money to invest in the organization, he would return profit. But I didn’t want to follow Gene. To me he was a manager, not a leader.

I believe that great leaders are those everyone wants to follow. They are respected by those who work for them and those who don’t.

I had to follow Gene because I worked there, but he was lacking as a leader of people.  When I examine the difference between great leaders and not-so-great leaders, I often find one missing ingredient to be self-esteem.

Self-esteem isn’t arrogance, it’s being comfortable with who you are as a person. Without self-esteem, the leader is constantly battling their insecurities and seeking validation in other ways. It causes them to do the things that make others not want to follow them. You have no idea how much insecurity exists in the leaders of most senior leadership teams.

Self-esteem helps you navigate the difficulties all leaders face in three ways.

Decisiveness. Making the tough call and the right call is part of leadership. I find leaders with self-esteem are more objective and thoughtful in making the difficult decisions no one else wants to make because success, failure or criticism doesn’t change their opinion of themselves. They aren’t protecting their self-image and are less worried about what others might think of them or being second guessed than they are in making the right decision for the organization. They make the right call. In contrast, insecure leaders either shy away from tough decisions or make decisions on their own without listening to input from others because of course it’s “their decision” to make.

Curiosity. Great leaders are continuously curious to find the best answers for each unique situation. They don’t feel the need to have all the answers, they would rather ask the right questions. Because of this they acknowledge when they don’t know something and ask in a non-threatening way. The result is they hear the truth which helps make better decisions. In contrast, the low self-esteem leaders tend to stick with the “status quo”, avoiding anything new or different. They don’t like to take risks, so following the pack is easier. They prefer to live in the world of what is known and avoid situations where they are asked questions they can’t answer.

Humility. You can tell great leaders by their humility; nothing is ever about them. It’s not false humility, it’s genuine. They never see themselves as the most important. They share credit to those who deserve it and take any criticism themselves. Wouldn’t you love to work for someone like that. Gene was anything but humble. He was always “the expert”, just ask him. He once said he read a book over the weekend on a subject of importance and now “knew everything”, he was an expert. Really? He felt the need to talk about his accomplishments to everyone, building up his own self-esteem. He never wanted to be challenged, so he tended to hire people who would always tell him what he wanted to hear.

If you want to be a better leader, start with learning to appreciate who you are.

Oh, don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare say that I am as wonderful as these other men who tell you how good they are! Their trouble is that they are only comparing themselves with each other and measuring themselves against their own little ideas. What stupidity! 2 Corinthians 10:12 (TLB)


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