After a meeting at a large corporation I work with, one of the division presidents, I'll call him Bill, pulled me aside. "Last year I felt invincible. But these past few months, I've been completely off my game," he told me in a hushed voice. "My boss even said that I used to be a winner and asked what had happened."
Bill said he needed to turn things around fast and asked me to coach him. As I began working with him, a pattern became obvious. Throughout his career, Bill had often bounced between very high highs when he could do no wrong and extremely low lows like the one he was experiencing at the time.
His self-confidence was easily thrown. Everything from a month of unsatisfactory results to a bad meeting with his boss was exaggerated in his mind, making him feel uncertain of his abilities.
When this happened Bill panicked and began chasing his tail in an effort to please his boss. He would engage in busywork or get so far into the details with his direct reports that he crossed the line into micromanagement. As a result, his effectiveness cratered.
To stop this cycle and stabilize his career, Bill first had to learn that self-esteem isn't just something you have—it's something you do. In fact, it's the most powerful action an executive can take in terms of productivity.
It took a few months for Bill to learn to rely on his own opinions more than the opinions of others. Doing so required developing trust in himself, the ability to listen to feedback, both good and bad, with healthy skepticism, and an exterior that was less pervious to the slings and arrows of executive life.
Once Bill traded the wild fluctuations in his self-confidence for sustained self-esteem, his leadership effectiveness skyrocketed. He respectfully challenged his boss on what he considered busywork and pushed for a greater focus on the critical issues. He also stopped trying to manage every little thing by empowering his deputies and getting out of their hair.
Within a year of making these changes, Bill received a significant promotion and was clearly a contender in succession plans.
When we began working together, Bill loved to tell me that when he was knocked down, he was the guy who could always get back up off the mat. My response was that it's always better to not get knocked down in the first place.
The way to do this is to not let your self-esteem be dictated by other people or external events. Neither your biggest mistake nor your greatest victory define who you are. And they certainly shouldn't determine how you define yourself.
The number one key to executive effectiveness is active self-esteem. We live in a Do-Have-Be world, "I do this work therefore I have this stuff which makes me be this person." To grow active self esteem turn this around.
Appreciate first who you are being: your own qualities, what you like the very most about yourself. Secondly celebrate what it is you do: how you are living your life and the contributions you're making to the world around you. The result is what you have: the relationships with the people around you, and yes, the stuff you treasure.
The great news is that the recipe for exceptional effectiveness is quite simple. Remove internal distractions and unnecessary work by investing in active self esteem just as my client Bill did. That way you act as a role model for how to treat you. The more esteem you show yourself, the more you train the organization how to treat you.