Mentl Logo



The corporate world has underestimated soft skills for too long, and it’s fair to say that most of today’s leaders didn’t get promoted because of interpersonal communication. Many executives still assume that the higher they climb, the less they’ll have to deal with people around them, perceiving this interaction gap as a positive. 

But isolation is the last thing we need from a boss – it’s dangerous for their own mental health and their organisation’s success. If we want to end the winner-takes-all culture, we need leaders who are excellent communicators and committed team players. And that’s never going to happen unless they have strong self-esteem. 

Feel good, do good

Self-esteem relates to how we value and perceive ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel good about ourselves and life in general. Importantly, there are subtle differences between self-confidence and self-esteem, with these lines becoming especially blurry in the workplace. 

At the heart of self-esteem is how much you like yourself as a person, whereas self-confidence is how you feel about your ability to achieve something. Confident people believe they are the best person to do a particular job. However, they might still have low self-esteem. This lack of self-esteem can then quickly undermine their efforts when interacting with colleagues or tackling the inevitable challenges of running a business.

Signs of low self-esteem are constantly comparing yourself to others, judging yourself harshly, negative self-talk, people pleasing and a lack of boundaries. If your inner dialogue is critical, you constantly doubt your abilities and feel like you’re not good enough. In this situation, it becomes very difficult to communicate effectively and make informed decisions. Typically, when people are arrogant, always speaking over others and trying to assert their views, it stems from self-esteem issues.

I work with many people in senior positions who struggle with self-esteem, and it’s not surprising because low self-esteem can actually be a huge driving force in a person’s success. In other words, they usually feel they have something to prove and the validation they crave comes from external achievements. 

While managers are meant to focus on planning, handling tasks and delivering results, leaders should inspire, motivate and encourage their team to achieve their goals while working towards the bigger picture. The more you work on your personal development, the more you want to empower others in a way that comes naturally. You want to share your learnings because you appreciate the benefits, and it’s important for you to see others succeeding.

High self-esteem helps us recognise our strengths and play to them. Crucially, it also lets us acknowledge our weaknesses and accept them without judgement. A leader with strong self-esteem won’t berate themselves for the areas they need to work on. Instead, they take a more proactive approach to develop them or delegate those aspects to someone more capable. 

When the opposite is true, you find insecure leaders who micro-manage, criticise, and disempower their teams. Over time employees feel extremely disempowered and unmotivated, resulting in issues like high staff turnover, reduced productivity, and low morale. Team members stop bringing ideas and suggestions to the table because they won’t be heard. 

Self-esteem encourages authenticity. Therefore, someone who lacks self-esteem might go to great lengths to hide their flaws. If a senior person gets caught not being honest about their mistakes, it creates an environment of distrust and they lose the respect of their staff. Equally, if they always try to present themselves as perfect, they are less relatable and unable to connect on a human level. As a leader, you need to be open to receiving constructive feedback. If you lack low self-esteem, you may close yourself off from hearing any feedback or fail to make necessary improvements because of how it makes you feel. 

It suits an insecure leader to keep their employees stuck, holding them back, and even taking credit for others because they feel threatened, contributing to a highly toxic work environment. But rather than laying blame, we need to place more of a focus on the value of soft skills overall. Emphasis on soft skills results in a range of tangible benefits, such as better well-being, productivity, job satisfaction, and retention rates. Self-esteem is like any other skill – we need to work on improving it, which means providing people with the right space and support to do so. The sooner we recognise the role of self-esteem in building successful individuals and high-performing organisations the better.

Tips for improving your self-esteem as a leader:

1. Adopt a growth mindset – if you think you know everything and that you’re always right, then there’s no opportunity to grow, and you get stuck in a fixed mindset. Developing humility as a leader is incredibly rewarding because to enables you to accept your weaknesses so that you can learn to either develop or delegate them.

2. Ask for feedback – developing a good sense of both external and internal self-awareness is important. We may think we know how we’re performing or being perceived by others, but the reality could be completely different. Accepting constructive feedback (without becoming emotional or defensive) is crucial for you to progress. You may be pleasantly surprised by the feedback given, which will boost your self-esteem. Likewise, once you understand the areas for improvement, you now have guidance on what to focus on, which puts you in control helping to build confidence.

3. Write down 20 positive qualities you possess – low self-esteem often results from individuals focusing on the ‘negative’ aspects of themselves instead of the positives; this can lead to perfectionism and imposter syndrome. Write this list and keep it somewhere you can see it daily to remind you of how competent you are, especially when times become more challenging.

4. Focus on the journey, not just the destination – always looking to the next milestone will leave you unfulfilled because it seems like you’re never quite ‘there’. Instead, it’s also essential to focus on the journey getting to your destination. Consider what you’ve learnt along the way, your achievements, the relationships built, and the challenges you’ve overcome. Recognising these will increase your self-esteem and bring you back to the present.

5. Get expert help – it’s not always easy to be aware of your blind spots, which is where a life coach can assist you. Coaching creates a safe, non-judgemental space for you to clarify the areas you want to develop and 

set a path to help you get there. It is also useful for highlighting some of the behaviours and beliefs you carry that are damaging your self-esteem as you work together to navigate through them and become a more effective leader.

Author: Aliya Rajah, personal and professional development coach and founder of Coaching with Aliya