Self esteem and performance

“A modern organization can no longer be run by a few people who think and many (other) people who merely do what they are told.” — Dr. Nathaniel Branden, American psychologist and best-selling author

“A modern organization can no longer be run by a few people who think and many (other) people who merely do what they are told.”

— Dr. Nathaniel Branden, American psychologist and best-selling author

“I want to thank you for the exceptional customer service.”

“It has been my pleasure, ma’am,” he replied. “My great pleasure.”

“You made us all feel special and that’s unusual and appreciated.”

I was sitting alone at a table in a resort restaurant in Varadero, Cuba. It was morning and the place was packed with hundreds of hungry tourists busily filling plates at buffet stations. Our server was friendly and the service was truly exceptional. He had greeted me with a smile and handshake. He had referred to me as, “my friend.” While I sat, another gentleman, perhaps prompted by the previous expression of appreciation, stepped up and expressed his gratitude. Again, the server smiled warmly, thanked him and was gracious when receiving the praise.

With the low Cuban wage of $12 to $15 per month, the service was certainly designed to garner tips. But more than that, the server seemed to genuinely enjoy his role. He performed it with efficiency, gratitude and, most importantly, with skill and self-confidence.

It seems to me that we’ve reached a time and place when self-esteem — a primary psychological component of success, joy and contentment in life – has also become essential for success in our increasingly complex, challenging and overly competitive business world.

Dr. Nathaniel Branden, American psychologist and best-selling author of The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, writes, “Today, organizations need (not only) a higher level of knowledge and skill among all those who participate but also a higher level of independence, self-reliance, self-trust and the capacity to exercise initiative — in a word, self-esteem.”

Branden notes that we live in a global economy characterized by rapid change and an unprecedented level of competitiveness – a world that requires higher levels of education and training than previous generations.

Succeeding requires a greater capacity for innovation, self-management and self-direction.

And this change is not simply demanded of senior management or department leaders but also of front-line and entry-level personnel.

What separates high performing staff from (sadly) the majority of employees?

This question was posed to a focus group of high-level executives, human resources personnel and training directors from a number of Fortune 500 companies. According to 2logical — the Rochester, New York based management training company that conducted the survey, the group came up with the following list of characteristics demonstrated by exceptional employees:

“They leave behind their excuses, take ownership and accept 100 per cent responsibility for achieving results.”

“They have a positive attitude that causes them to be solution-oriented versus problem-oriented.”

“They understand and embrace the need for change and have mastered the ability to manage their fears, self- doubts and comfort zones.”

“They have superior confidence, focus and goal direction.”

In today’s dynamic business environment, marked by tighter deadlines, fewer staff, demands for increased profitability by shareholders and higher customer expectations, the reasons for attracting superior staff is vital. To succeed today, business must attract and keep employees who can make a constructive contribution to the business, are adaptable and actively seeking meaningful ways to improve productivity – employee who are “bought into” the business.

What is often overlooked, however, is that all the characteristics defined by the focus group are benchmarks of individuals who exemplify a high level of self-esteem.

Donald Gardner and Jon L. Pierce, pioneers in organization-based self-esteem, note that workers with healthy self-esteem are highly motivated and possess positive work-related attitudes and feelings — attitudes and behaviours that impact job performance and satisfaction every day. In other words, higher self-esteem equals higher workplace performance.

Further studies conducted by Joel Brockner and Ted Hess at Columbia University concluded that organizations made up of high-self-esteem employees continuously outperformed those made up of low-self-esteem employees, reinforcing the critical role that developing self-esteem plays in helping employees and business in general reach optimal levels of performance.

Employees with low self-esteem are (generally) less likely to see themselves as competent or capable.

Far too many employees lack the appropriate level of self-esteem needed to become peak performers — an extremely costly proposition for any company competing today.

In fact, more than three decades of research has established a firm connection between poor self-esteem and employee behaviours that consistently filter through to the bottom line.

In an article entitled Our Urgent Need for Self-Esteem, Branden lists the following traits of employees with poor self-esteem:

— Desire for safety and familiarity.

— Constant looking for situations that are not demanding or challenging.

— Slow to respond to setbacks and obstacles.

— Quick to place blame and make excuses.

— Negative and problem-oriented.

— Lacking focus and goal-direction.

— Inappropriate use of time.

— Weak communication and interpersonal skills.

— Lacking initiative and self- motivation.

— Difficulty thinking “outside of the box.”

— Not coping well with adversity and change.

— Unwilling or resistant in learning new skills.

Leaders must ask themselves, “How can we develop a corporate culture that fosters healthy self-esteem? What must we do to stimulate novel ideas and thinking, creative problem-solving and innovation? How can we create a corporate reputation that will attract the best people? What can we do to keep them here? And what must we do to earn their on-going loyalty?”

I’ve seen employees that might be considered less than stellar thrive in an environment that promotes self-esteem along with personal and professional development.

I’ve seen superior performers become frustrated and leave environments where the opposite was true.

Simply put, as a leader, creating a corporate culture that focuses on helping employees build self-esteem and develop their full potential is not simply prudent, it’s also good business.

As for the server, I knew he had to share his tips with the rest of the restaurant staff. His motivation couldn’t be strictly to enhance his income — there had to be something greater at play.

“I love my job,” he said. “And I love working here — with people who appreciate me.”

And that is the secret to exceptional customer service.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at

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