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The Best Leaders Know Self-Esteem is Scarce

by Kevin Eikenberry on July 23, 2012

I believe in you!A key concept in economics is scarcity.  In economic terms, it is when people have unlimited wants but resources are limited.  If you look up scarcity in the dictionary, you will find a similar idea:

1.  insufficiency or shortness of supply; dearth.
2.  rarity; infrequency.

(Source: Dictionary.com)

In practice, when things are scarce, several things happen.  Scarcity creates value – when there is less of something, it becomes more valuable – economically and emotionally.  And because of this fact, when things are scarce, we treat them more carefully and intentionally. While scarcity will always create these conditions, when the item has significant inherent value to start with, the importance of scarcity grows even further.

Why the economics lesson?

Because the reality is that self-esteem is relatively scarce in the world and in your workplace.

Maybe you haven’t thought of self-esteem as scarce for several reasons, including:

  • You have a healthy self-esteem and so you assume others do, or it never crosses your mind.
  • You don’t have it, and are in denial, (or think you are the only one with weak or low self-esteem).
  • Your people seem to have good self-esteem
  • Self-esteem can’t be seen directly, only indirectly in people’s behavior and habits.
  • Sometimes self-esteem levels are misrepresented or hidden (have you ever seen someone who feigns great confidence, almost as if to prove it to themselves?)

So if something is scarce, it is more valuable; and I’ve tried to prove that this is the case for self-esteem. But there is one more important economics lesson that is important now:

If an inherently valuable item is in short supply, and you can create more of it, you will become wealthy.

Translated for our purposes, self-esteem is incredibly valuable to people and organizations.  More of it increases productivity, morale, efficiency and creates greater opportunities for growth.  While it is in short supply, as a leader, you can foster, encourage and grow the self-esteem of others, and when you do that you will become a far more successful (and satisfied) leader.

Hopefully you now understand and agree with my premise, but the knowledge of this alone isn’t enough.  You are probably wondering (as you should be), how can I help foster and grow the self-esteem of those around me?

Fully answering that question is a life-long quest involving introspection, values and learning, but there are some specific and immediately actionable building blocks you can start with.

Turning Knowledge into Action

See it Yourself.  When people’s self-esteem isn’t at healthy levels, it is in part because they don’t see themselves as capable or able to achieve at higher levels.   Before you can help them see something new in themselves, you must see it in them.

Help Them See It.  Let people know you believe in them.  Show them examples of success that they don’t see, are downplaying, or are denying.  Your belief can begin to be transferred to them when you help them see what you see.

Encourage them. Remind them frequently of what you see.  Encourage and generally speak positively with them and about their potential.

Challenge them.  When you see potential in others, challenge them to rise to the next level.   Your challenge may spur them to try, and when they have some success, their self-esteem will begin to rise based on that successful experience.

Listen to them.  You can’t build self-esteem simply by doing all the talking.  Listen to where people are.  Try to see what they see, so you can better help them shape and form a new picture of themselves and their potential.

Support and affirm them.  Every day.  When in their presence and when talking to others about them . . . in the opportunities you provide them and in the feedback and coaching you provide them.  Self-esteem grows in the light and warmth of support and affirmation.

Television personality and author Iyanla Vanzant wrote “We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem.”  As a leader, it is our role and opportunity to help people perform at higher and more valuable levels. Ms. Vanzant is right – the limit to that growth might be people’s self-esteem.   As you help people lift their self-esteem, you lift their results and the results of your team and organization.

Your people are a valuable commodity, and they become more valuable to your organization (and themselves) as they build a healthy self-image.  You can grow their value by helping them grow that precious and scarce resource of self-esteem.  Do that, and you will be a highly effective (and valued) leader.

That’s an economics lesson worth applying.


Photo credit ckubber

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

robert Schwarztrauber July 23, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Very insightful article Kevin. I took a survey a while back about what benefits people got from taking photographs. One of the most surprising responses was that it helped people feel better about themselves. It boosted their self esteem.
I focus a lot on that aspect in my blog posts now.

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Boro Petric February 15, 2013 at 6:08 am

Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.

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