Build you kids’ (and your team!) self-esteem and lead them to happiness

When I was pregnant of my first son I read a thousand books on how to raise a child. The best one was the Spanish edition of “Your child’s self-esteem” by Dorothy Briggs (“El Niño Feliz, su clave psicológica“). It gave me key learnings to become a mum but I was surprised to see that there is a certain parallelism when leading a team. Here’s what I learned.

“Self-esteem is the key element that determines the success or failure for every kid as a human being”.

And self-esteem is the sum of two beliefs:

  • I deserve love. Just because I exist, I have a value.
  • I have a value that I can manage. I know I have things to offer to others.

According to Briggs, parents are mirrors that a kid uses to build his own identity. If he receives love, he feels he’s lovable. If not, he feels he doesn’t deserve to be loved because he has no value. Easy and obvious, isn’t it?

The phenomenon of the mirrors

The book explains that, since I was a mirror for my son to build his own identity, I had to encourage and praise the good behaviour, strengthening his belief that he deserves love and that he has good things to offer to others. Here’s an example of the kind of language I used: “Dad, today I could cook a cake for us because our son had lunch all by himself, he did not need my help. He’s smart and a big boy, isn’t he?”. Most of the times, this kind of language was enough to build his belief in his own capabilities while having a proper behaviour.

But still, it’s in my son’s hands to behave as expected.

What could I do when the behaviour was not appropriate? Was I supposed to use the same kind of language but describing just the opposite situation? Let’s use the same example: “Dad, I planned to cook a cake today but I couldn’t because our son needed my help when having lunch. He can’t use the fork. He is not a big boy, is he?” It doesn’t look like the right statement to foster my son’s self-esteem, right? Moreover, to be coherent with the image that my son receives from me as a mirror, he will persist in this bad behaviour. To keep it simple, he might think: “Mum says I can’t use the fork and mum is always right, so I CAN’T use the fork”.

What kind of language can I use to tell my son that little by little I expect him to be more independent?

  1. First, I must tell him my expectations and teach him how to do it with tons of patience.
  2. Second, I have to show him the relevant role he has in this situation: “If you have lunch without my help I will be able to prepare a cake for Dad. What do you think? Will you do it? I am sure you can, big boy“. 
  3. Third, I can show him the effects of the good behaviour “Dad will be really happy. We will tell him that I could cook a cake because you didn’t need mum’s help“. 

Briggs explains that at the age of five most of the kids have collected enough images from their parents’ mirrors to build the image of their own value. I am happy to say that the teachers of my sons have always said that they are confident, independent and happy boys. I guess what Briggs taught me has worked pretty well, so far.

Can I apply all this mummy lessons to leadership? 

Sure. Here’s what I found from Briggs’ advice that I could use with teams:

  • Team members, at least at the very beginning, need a certain feedback (or mirror) from the leader to know that they are doing right. 
  • If the performance is good what’s required to build the person’s confidence (or professional self-esteem) is just telling her how good her job is, based on facts. Of course, no childish language required this time, but the concept is exactly the same.
  • If the performance is not good enough, the person needs a feedback that fosters her willingness to change without damaging her confidence. It looks like a difficult think to do, but it’s easy if you know how. I’ll tell you how in my next post.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” Gautama Buddha


How to focus your energy and change your world

My coach once taught me how to focus my energy to make things happen with a quite easy-to-use tool. Since then, I believe I am able to do almost anything. Here’s the magic exercise.

Take a piece of paper and write something that looks like this:

4 quadrants

Quadrant 1: Here you should write things that you know you can change and that you accept. Here you will find everything you know you are capable of changing. You should put all your energy in this quadrant. By doing so, you are investing your energy in stuff that depends on you.

An example: you have to deal with somebody that you don’t like at all. You can’t change the way this person behaves, but for sure you can change the reaction you have when she behaves like that. Maybe this person has driven you mad for ages. Today you can start a change by not losing your nerves with her. It’s totally up to you. And the magic is, when you do so, suddenly people around you starts behaving differently!

Quadrant 2: Here you’ll find everything that you can NOT change and that you accept. When you accept that there are things that you can’t change, like the fact that your husband wants a divorce, you have peace. Although in some circumstances it might be really hard, accepting that there are things that you can’t change really brings peace of mind. Accept that you can’t make people change at your wish and suddenly you will feel relaxed and focused on what actually is in your hands (quadrant 1).

Quadrant 3: Find here things that you really can change, but for some reason (procrastination, laziness, excuses…) you believe you can’t. For instance, you’ve been willing to go to the gym for months, but you don’t actually go for many different reasons. Here there is something YOU can change but you always find a reason to avoid it. Only you and your will determine that you move stuff from quadrant 3 to quadrant 1.

Quadrant 4: This is the worst quadrant to be in. This is stuff you don’t accept and you can’t change. Being here means being frustrated and feeling useless. An example: my boss makes a decision I don’t like. I would do something different, but I am not the boss. I don’t accept it and I can’t change it, because he is the one chosen to decide about this particular topic. I might have the illusion that if I put a lot of energy I will convince him to change his mind. But this is not true. Of course I must show my point-of-view to give him a different perspective. And I have to be honest and explain why I would decide differently. But, at a given moment, I need to accept that he will probably not change his mind and therefore move this topic from quadrant 4 to quadrant 2: accept that you can’t change this and get immediate peace of mind.

Write in this piece of paper all the topics that are taking energy from you now. One by one, analyse your chances to make it change: is it in your hands? or is it in somebody else’s? Take everything in the bottom part of your paper and move it to the top: Put action in your list in quadrant 3 and get peace of mind by accepting that what you wrote in quadrant 4 should move to the top.

As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person. – Paul Shane Spear