Mitigating business risks with a self-esteem-based leadership culture

Organisations should create an environment where people want to engage and be fully present, highlights Martin Laschkolnig.
By: | March 15, 2024

If we look at the state of the world it is easy to feel insecure and wonder what is next. Mental health issues are on the rise especially after making it through the pandemic years and facing political uncertainty all around. According to a recent study by McKinsey, one in four people in the workforce face burnout and in Asia, the ratio is one in three.

These are alarming numbers, and the question is what can you do as a leader to make sure that you, your company, and your people can weather the storm that the next negative disruption might bring?

The approach of self-esteem-based leadership might give you some insights as to what you can do, especially when we also focus on increasing serenity levels to help with all the mental health issues that are so rampant in people today – not to speak of the cost and damage incurred by widespread dis-engagement of employees.

There are five levels that are building up on each other to create an environment where people actually want to engage and be fully present.

  1. Sense of Security
  2. Sense of Identity
  3. Sense of Belonging
  4. Sense of Vision and Purpose
  5. Sense of Competence

There is a clear reason for each one to start with a “Sense of” – as you may be highly competent, but if you feel worn down by the stressors that you experience in your everyday work environment, like your micro-managing boss or a generally resentful atmosphere, then your self-doubt will most likely talk you out of feeling competent very quickly, regardless of what the actual truth is.

A Sense of Security is the most fundamental. Without this one, nothing will work, engagement will plummet, and you will face a sea of disengaged and uncaring faces in a team meeting. Everybody talks about aligning people with the vision and purpose of the company, but the truth is without the first three senses in place nobody will care, because they feel that nobody cares about them. And vice versa – when people feel that they are seen as humans, that they feel respected and cared for, they will be more ready to open up, they will want to make a contribution and will eventually be fiercely loyal to their leader, brand and company. But as the adage goes, trust is quickly lost and takes a long time to be earned back.

So, what can be done?

Security is based on confidence and trust. In oneself and in one’s leadership. Therefore accountability, walking your talk and a readiness to take responsibility for one’s decisions (and mistakes!) are the basic ingredients that are unfortunately all too often not in place with people trying to brush off responsibility to their surroundings, outer circumstances or other factors that seem at least sort of plausible. Know anyone like that?

People act in this way because their own Sense of Security is flawed and our common corporate cultures are exacerbating the situation with the proclaimed or implicit need to be perfect, making no mistakes and having everything under control all the time. Who came up with that fairy tale?

Which brings us to the Sense of Identity. The workplace is one of the most important social meeting points in the lives of many people today – and makes it an important source of identity for many people. You can use this factor positively by doing what I call “Catch them doing it right”. However, the recognition when something is done well or exceeds expectations, is often given only too sparingly. And if that is brought up at the annual performance review, the actual occurrence has already been long forgotten. That is why it is much more beneficial if you “catch” them when they do something right. And the praise does not need to be exaggerated. A simple but honest “Great work on that report, that was very helpful,” can be a fabulous encouragement that their contribution is valued and this will help form a positive perception of their identity.

Humans are social beings. That is why the Sense of Belonging is so important for a positive culture. We naturally want to contribute something to a greater whole and sharing common interests with others is of great interest to many people. And little creates more connection among people than mastering challenges together. Having, the feeling of having contributed to the team and being recognised for it (credit for whom credit is due) goes a long way. A team leader blaming team members for when things go wrong and taking all the credit when things go well, is the most toxic behaviour in that area. A great leader shares the spotlight.

“We naturally want to contribute something to a greater whole and sharing common interests with others is of great interest to many people.” – Martin Laschkolnig, Founder and Director, Institute for the Development of Potential

And only when these three are in place will people actually be ready to buy into a Sense of Vision and Purpose. Much can be (and has already been) said about how to create a vision and mission. One of the most important aspects in my opinion is to keep it simple. Can a 10-year-old draw a picture of your vision? If yes, most people in your company will get it. Keep it simple.

READ MORE: Why inclusive leadership needs to be prioriritised in 2024

And lastly, of course, we need well trained people who have the competence to transform their engagement into actual results – and only when the culture in place leads to the people actually having a Sense of Competence will they also be able to put their aspirations into action and results.

All of this does not cost much money, but it needs a willingness to change the attitude and embrace new ways of working together.

If you want to know more, join my session at the Talent Unleashed content theatre at HR Tech Festival Asia 2024 on April 24 at 2.15pm (SGT) and/or download the free “Self-Esteem and Serentiy in Leadership“ white paper here.

About the author: Martin Laschkolnig is Founder and Director, Institute for the Development of Potential