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


3-12-3, one of the most easy and useful tools for personal planning and commitment

The 3-12-3 is a tool that, in less than 20 minutes, helps you reflect and realize what you have done, what is it that you are pursuing and what needs to be done immediately to reach your goals. It’s about being on the dance floor and at the balcony watching people dance at the same time.

I find this tool to be excellent both if you use it alone, just for you, or if you decide to help somebody in your team or a colleague to reflect, imagine the future and take actions to make it happen. And, of course, it’s useful both for your personal and professional life.

Doing a 3-12-3 means answering these three questions:

  • Look back at the last 3 months. What have you done that makes you feel proud of? It’s very important that you make a list of really good things that you feel proud of. Even on the topics that have not been so good, try to find the positive impact you made.
  • Imagine that we are 12 months ahead. Imagine that today is the 3rd of February of 2014. What are you celebrating? What have you done that makes you feel proud of? In this particular moment it’s very important that you imagine yourself a year ahead. You must see what has already happened and use the present perfect tense, not the simple future tense.
  • What are you going to do these following 3 months that will lead you to this future that you have just described? It’s very important that everything written in this list goes directly to the agenda. It has to be concrete, actionable and something that you can do by yourself.

Find below a real 3-12-3 that I have written for myself, as an example.

Look back at the last 3 months. What have you done that makes you feel proud of?

  • I feel proud of my new way to manage my time. I have more time for me, I run more and I go to sleep earlier.
  • I am happy because I have changed my habit when going to the office. I’m happier taking the train than driving and now I get more of my time when going to the office. And I sold my car and I don’t polute anymore!
  • I feel proud because I’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and I’ve setup a new way of organizing my stuff that really works and I feel less stressed.
  • I feel proud of the extremely positive feedback that Gabri, David and myself get everytime we run an Innovation training at InfoJobs. I’m happy because I didn’t know I could be a good teacher.
  • I am happy with the new organization I have setup in the Marketing department and the connection with Product and I believe that we are on the way to finally find a way of being focused, effective and productive.
  • I am happy because I have met new people from the Agile community and I have broaden my network nationally and internationally.

Imagine that we are 12 months ahead. Imagine that today is the 3rd of February of 2014. What are you be celebrating? What have you done, then, that makes you feel proud of?

  • I am happy because with my work and leading my team we have reached our goals for the new revenue streams.
  • I am happy because this means that the Marketing and Product Departments have worked properly and that the Lean Startup and Customer Development methodologies that Gabri and myself setup 18 months ago have worked.
  • I feel proud because, following my boss‘ advice, I have had time to attend relevant gatherings for my professional development, I have met a lot of new people and I have learned a lot that I could bring back to InfoJobs.
  • I feel proud because I have spread the knowledge within the organisation, both with the trainings I deliver and with this blog.
  • I am happy because a lot of people (10.000?!) read this blog.

What are you going to do these following 3 months that will lead you to this future that you have just described?

  • I am going to ask the team to write down a plan for every new revenue stream that contains: 1) actions that we will take to deliver the product and start charging and 2) a new list of hypothesis to investigate and validate in the event that we are not successful with the first set of activities.
  • I am going to set aside time with the team, once a month, to do retrospectives and learn from past mistakes and successes.
  • I will ask my team to peer-review their previous 3-12-3 to check that we are all in the right path.
  • I am going to set aside time next week to identify events that are relevant for my professional development, I will write down a plan for my boss to exchange opinions by the end of February and I will attend the ones that we agree upon.
  • I will do the scheduled training sessions for Innovation and I will set aside time to prepare the Product Development course for my team next week. I will deliver the training with Gabri to Communication and Business Intelligence before the end of April.
  • I will set aside time twice per week to write articles for this blog. And I will setup the Google Analytics needed to follow up its growth.