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