One definition of self-esteem reflects, “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.” Another source, psychologist and author, Dr. Nathaniel Branden, offers: “Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.”

While typically not a topic discussed over coffee, many leaders struggle with issues of low self-esteem. They question their abilities to cope with the problems at hand, they often doubt they are worthy of the position of leadership they occupy, and they most definitely agonize quietly over much of their professional existence.  Others manifest their low self-esteem with over-the-top aggressiveness and strong controlling behaviors.

Regardless of how the self-esteem issue is expressed, the sufferers struggle with a debilitating level of self-doubt. Unfounded criticism and minor setbacks easily derail the positive thought train.  Instead of pursuing success, the leader with low self-esteem settles for a kind of tortured survival.

(Note: if you feel chronically depressed, please seek professional medical or counseling assistance.)

Nine Ideas to Help Strengthen Your Leadership Self-Esteem

1. Recognize that you’re not alone. The greatest historical figures and leaders throughout history struggled with self-doubt, and many of the most outwardly confident leaders battle this same issue in private. You are most definitely not alone.

2. Cultivate “bigger purpose” thinking about your job. The focus on a large and compelling mission promotes action and helps set priorities. It also sets the stage for self-esteem reinforcing behaviors and achievements.

I crafted my Leader’s Charter to remind me of my true role as a leader and serve as my “bigger purpose.” A few moments reviewing and reflecting upon The Charter every morning, does wonders for your attitude and for providing a strong reason for being.

The Leader’s Charter:

Your primary role as a leader is to:

-Create an environment that facilitates high individual and team performance

-Support innovation in process, programs and approaches

-Encourage collaboration where necessary


-Promote the development of your associates in roles that leverage their talents and that challenge them to pursue new and greater accomplishments.

With all of that “purpose” to focus on, it’s hard to spend time wondering whether you are up to the job. Your actions and approaches towards others are inherent in The Charter. And as you live your day(s) according to the concepts, you cannot help but produce small victories. These small victories are rocket-fuel for self-esteem.

3. Small victories count! Keep tabs on yours.  Keep a list of the small victories to reinforce your growing self-esteem and good attitude.  And remember to share the wealth by celebrating or praising the positive accomplishments of others.  Your positive praise helps others build their own self-esteem.

4. Read something inspirational. My own doses of self-esteem fuel come from biographies of historical figures who battled overwhelming odds, only to succeed.  It’s amazing what looking at a truly bad situation faced by someone else will do to put your own situation  in perspective.

5. Trust feedback from trusted sources. Not all feedback and not all feedback providers are created equal. The comment from an audience member recently regarding a concept that I “failed to develop” on one of my slides was interesting but frankly irrelevant. The talk had been a success however, it clearly bugged this guy that I had not expanded upon the issue he felt so passionately about. I suggested he make it a self-study topic.

6. Pull out of a stall. Take action. Actions…and movement are important steps in building self-esteem. An internal preoccupation on your supposed negatives coupled with no action is truly self-reinforcing.

7. Focus your actions on your strengths. Just for a few moments, forget about the weaknesses that you believe are holding you back. Preoccupying on your weaknesses reinforces low self-esteem thinking.

8. Don’t overlook your physical appearance. Focus on getting in shape, losing weight, getting a better haircut and/or improving your style of dress. Much of our self-esteem flows from how we feel about our looks and physical presence.

9. Selectively take action to strengthen weaknesses. As the small victories pile up, and as you build upon your strengths and refocus your efforts around your priorities (The Charter), selectively identify weaknesses to strengthen and take action. Buy and read and apply the lessons in a self-help book, take a course or seek a mentor to guide your efforts and offer reinforcement.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Your self-esteem is an intensely personal issue that impacts others and affects your ability to succeed. A strong sense of your own self-worth is important for building self-confidence, and self-confidence is an important ingredient for success as a leader. If you’re struggling with a sense of low-self esteem, it’s important to do something. Try the items on the list, add in others, and if you’re still struggling seek help. You deserve a strong self-esteem, and your colleagues deserve a leader with enough self-confidence to help them strive and succeed.