Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
Most of the time, we’re our own worst critics. And it’s not easy to silence the critical voice inside our heads. We compare ourselves to others, doubt our own abilities, and make unhealthy assumptions about our self-worth.
But when we are hampered by our insecurities, it makes it difficult to recognize the value we bring to the table and to leverage our best thinking.
Our personal power—the collection of talents, skills, and traits that allow us to be successful and navigate life’s challenges—depends on healthy self-esteem.
As an executive coach, this is one of the most common issues my clients face: personal power sabotaged by low self-esteem in the form of insecurity, self-doubt, or a chronic case of imposter syndrome.
Here are 3 steps to boost your self-esteem and grow your personal power:
1. Turn your Gaze Inwards.
“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.” –Lao Tzu
As social animals, we walk a fine line between belonging and independence—between seeking the love of others and betraying ourselves to please them.
We want and need to be loved by our community, but doing so at the expense of our uniqueness weakens us. The more we care what others think, the more we abandon the very things that give us power: our distinctive set of traits, tendencies, and talents.
Furthermore, we place our sense of self-esteem, the building block of personal power, in the hands of others.
The fact is that to have healthy self-esteem and grow your personal power, we need to turn our gaze inwards. In the words of poet Allen Ginsberg, “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.”
We need to be more self-interested. Not self-absorbed, not narcissistic, but introspective. Self-curious. In tune with our deepest and truest values. And we need to learn to endure the tension between following our own path and following others.
Self-interest, becoming independent from others’ opinions and expectations, is an increasingly rare commodity in this day and age of social media.
Social media is the definition of social comparison, a factor which researchers have correlated to depression and lowered levels of self-esteem.
Basing your sense of self-esteem and self-worth on the number of likes, shares, and tags you receive, is an addictive and vicious cycle.
The more dependent you are on external sources—on what people say and think and do—chasing praise and avoiding criticism, the lower your self-esteem, and the more you find yourself chasing after it in the wrong place: outside yourself.
2. Don’t Play Favorites with Yourself.
True self-esteem is an all-or-nothing deal. You can’t pick and choose which parts of yourself to like.
Our traits, tendencies, and talents are like the raw materials of our personal power. No one trait is better, or more powerful than another. It depends entirely on how we cultivate and use them.
There are advantages and drawbacks to every trait. Each one is a double-edged sword. So we have to learn how to wield them skillfully.
Your trait of self-assuredness is a wonderful asset. It allows you to take on challenges, to stretch yourself and grow. It makes you optimistic, and able to inspire others. But, it can also be a liability.
Without awareness, it can make you close-minded, overly fond of your own opinion, and averse to learning new things.
Your easygoing and relaxed nature? It’s perfect for thriving under stressful situations and can make you fun to be around. But lacking direction, it can also evolve into laziness and apathy, causing you to miss opportunities that require effort or struggle to follow through with difficult tasks.
Whether your traits are assets or liabilities, completely depends on how you view and use them. If you are comfortable in your introversion, others will be too. But if you think you’re ‘too bossy,’ or ‘too passive,’ then others will likely agree.
In other words, when we understand our traits, and develop them skillfully, by knowing when, how, and for what purpose to use them, then others will also tend to view them favorably.
And most importantly, you boost your self-esteem by not having an Achilles heel, not being ashamed of a part of yourself, not having to hide or adapt as a way to fit in.
This is no simple task.
As humans, we have internalized a ranking system of personality traits. We’ve had to learn to fit in—to adapt to norms in the family, school, community, and culture.
And that means prizing some of our traits while feeling ashamed of others. So to cultivate our traits, to grow a healthy self-esteem, we have to fight the cultural programming to fit.
Because when we embrace our total self—the parts we like, and the parts we’ve been conditioned not to like—then we have nothing to hide. We are, as the saying goes, comfortable in our own skin.
3. Tame Your Triggers.
Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” August Wilson
The final step to building self-esteem and boosting personal power is cautionary: watch out for your reactivity, your triggers, your emotions that derail you.
When we’re emotionally unregulated we lose self-esteem and personal power. I call this a ‘power leak.’ We’re not in control. Our emotions are. And frequently we do or say something in this state that we later regret.
I once coached a CEO whose response to anxiety was to walk around, peek his head into others’ offices, and sit in on meetings. His behavior annoyed everyone.
He would add his two cents in situations and places where he had no context or understanding of the issues. Why? It made him feel like he was doing something, anything.
He was attempting to combat his fears and his worry about the company’s standing. He was being driven by emotions, and wasn’t in a seat of power. While he thought it gave him some control, it actually dropped his standing in the eyes of others, effectively diminishing, not enhancing, his power.
We can’t do away with triggers, but we can learn to recognize and control them. Knowing your triggers and being able to anticipate them gives you more control and more choice in how to respond.
In summary, self-esteem is a critical component of personal power. And there are three steps to boosting self-esteem that you can practice today:
- Be self-curious. Avoid comparing yourself to others.
- Don’t play favorites. Develop yourself fairly, knowing that every trait is both an asset and a liability. Their effectiveness depends on you, and how you cultivate and use them
- Watch out for your triggers. Don’t let your emotions drive the bus.
Julie Diamond, Ph.D is the CEO and founder of Diamond Leadership, an international consulting firm that provides leadership and talent development services, including coaching, assessment, and training. Julie is the author of Power: A User’s Guide, and co-founder of the Power2 Leaderlab, an executive coaching program for women leaders which currently runs a program for senior women leaders at Intel Corporation. Diamond Leadership is the publisher of the Diamond Power Index®, 360-degree leadership assessment, distributed in India by Anahat Organisation Development Consultancy Pvt Ltd