(psychology) Really Understanding Self-Esteemgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread
I think it's crucial to understand self-esteem. From there we have a basis for improving on it.
Here's an article from the master...
What Self-Esteem Is and Is Not
by Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. (NathanielBranden@compuserve.com) Copyright ) 1997, Nathaniel Branden, All Rights Reserved
This article is adapted from The Art of Living Consciously (Simon & Schuster, 1997).
Four decades ago, when I began lecturing on self-esteem, the challenge was to persuade people that the subject was worthy of study. Almost no one was talking or writing about self-esteem in those days. Today, almost everyone seems to be talking about self-esteem, and the danger is that the idea may become trivialized. And yet, of all the judgments we pass in life, none is more important than the judgment we pass on ourselves.
Having written on this theme in a series of books, I want, in this short article, to address the issue of what self-esteem is, what it depends on, and what are some of the most prevalent misconceptions about it.
Self-esteem is an experience. It is a particular way of experiencing the self. It is a good deal more than a mere feeling this must be stressed. It involves emotional, evaluative, and cognitive components. It also entails certain action dispositions: to move toward life rather than away from it; to move toward consciousness rather than away from it; to treat facts with respect rather than denial; to operate self-responsibly rather than the opposite.
To begin with a definition: Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and respond effectively to change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment happiness are right and natural for us. The survival-value of such confidence is obvious; so is the danger when it is missing.
Self-esteem is not the euphoria or buoyancy that may be temporarily induced by a drug, a compliment, or a love affair. It is not an illusion or hallucination. If it is not grounded in reality, if it is not built over time through the appropriate operation of mind, it is not self-esteem.
The root of our need for self-esteem is the need for a consciousness to learn to trust itself. And the root of the need to learn such trust is the fact that consciousness is volitional: we have the choice to think or not to think. We control the switch that turns consciousness brighter or dimmer. We are not rational that is, reality-focused automatically. This means that whether we learn to operate our mind in such a way as to make ourselves appropriate to life is ultimately a function of our choices. Do we strive for consciousness or for its opposite? For rationality or its opposite? For coherence and clarity or their opposite? For truth or its opposite?
In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, I examine the six practices that I have found to be essential for the nurturing and sustaining of healthy self-esteem: the practice of living consciously, of self-acceptance, of self-responsibility, of self-assertiveness, of purposefulness, and of integrity. I will briefly define what each of these practices means:
The practice of living consciously: respect for facts; being present to what we are doing while are doing it; seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge, or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects; seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world, so that we do not out of self-blindness.
The practice of self-acceptance: the willingness to own, experience, and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning and also without self-repudiation; giving oneself permission to think one's thoughts, experience one's emotions, and look at one's actions without necessarily liking, endorsing, or condoning them; the virtue of realism applied to the self.
The practice of self-responsibility: realizing that we are the author of our choices and actions; that each one us is responsible for life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals; that if we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer values in exchange; and that question is not "Who's to blame?" but always "What needs to be done?" ("What do I need to do?")
The practice of self-assertiveness: being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts.
The practice of living purposefully: identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan); organizing behavior in the service of those goals; monitoring action to be sure we stay on track; and paying attention to outcome so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board.
The practice of personal integrity: living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do; telling the truth, honoring our commitments, exemplifying in action the values we profess to admire.
What all these practices have in common is respect for reality. They all entail at their core a set of mental operations (which, naturally, have consequences in the external world).
When we seek to align ourselves with reality as best we understand it, we nurture and support our self-esteem. When, either out of fear or desire, we seek escape from reality, we undermine our self-esteem. No other issue is more important or basic than our cognitive relationship to reality meaning: to that which exists.
A consciousness cannot trust itself if, in the face of discomfiting facts, it has a policy of preferring blindness to sight. A person cannot experience self-respect who too often, in action, betrays consciousness, knowledge, and conviction that is, who operates without integrity.
Thus, if we are mindful in this area, we see that self-esteem is not a free gift of nature. It has to be cultivated, has to be earned. It cannot be acquired by blowing oneself a kiss in the mirror and saying, "Good morning, Perfect." It cannot be attained by being showered with praise. Nor by sexual conquests. Nor by material acquisitions. Nor by the scholastic or career achievements of one's children. Nor by a hypnotist planting the thought that one is wonderful. Nor by allowing young people to believe they are better students than they really are and know more than they really know; faking reality is not a path to mental health or authentic self-assurance. However, just as people dream of attaining effortless wealth, so they dream of attaining effortless self-esteem and unfortunately the marketplace is full of panderers to this longing.
People can be inspired, stimulated, or coached to live more consciously, practice greater self-acceptance, operate more self-responsibly, function more self-assertively, live more purposefully, and bring a higher level of personal integrity into their life but the task of generating and sustaining these practices falls on each of us alone. "If I bring a higher level of awareness to my self-esteem, I see that mine is the responsibility of nurturing it." No one not our parents, nor our friends, nor our lover, nor our psychotherapist, nor our support group can "give" us self-esteem. If and when we fully grasp this, that is an act of "waking up."
Misconceptions about Self-Esteem
When we do not understand the principles suggested above, we tend to seek self-esteem where it cannot be found and, if we are in "the self-esteem movement," to communicate our misunderstandings to others.
Teachers who embrace the idea that self-esteem is important without adequately grasping its roots may announce (to quote one such teacher) that "self-esteem comes primarily from one's peers." Or (quoting many others): "Children should not be graded for mastery of a subject because it may be hurtful to their self-esteem." Or (quoting still others): "Self-esteem is best nurtured by selfless (!) service to the community."
In the "recovery movement" and from so-called spiritual leaders in general one may receive a different message: "Stop struggling to achieve self-esteem. Turn your problems over to God. Realize that you are a child of God and that is all you need to have self-esteem." Consider what this implies if taken literally. We don't need to live consciously. We don't need to act self-responsibly. We don't need to have integrity. All we have to do is surrender responsibility to God and effortless self-esteem is guaranteed to us. This is not a helpful message to convey to people. Nor is it true.
Yet another misconception very different from those I have just discussed is the belief that the measure of our personal worth is our external achievements. This is an understandable error to make but it is an error nonetheless. We admire achievements, in ourselves and in others, and it is natural and appropriate to do so. But this is not the same thing as saying that our achievements are the measure or grounds of our self-esteem. The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements per se but those internally generated practices that make it possible for us to achieve. How much we will achieve in the world is not fully in our control. An economic depression can temporarily put us out of work. A depression cannot take away the resourcefulness that will allow us sooner or later to find another or go into business for ourselves. "Resourcefulness" is not an achievement in the world (although it may result in that); it is an action in consciousness and it is here that self-esteem is generated.
To clarify further the importance of understanding what self-esteem is and is not, I want to comment on a recent research report that has gained a great deal of attention in the media and has been used to challenge the value of self-esteem.
By way of preamble let me say that one of the most depressing aspects of so many discussions of self-esteem today is the absence of any reference to the importance of thinking or respect for reality. Too often, consciousness or rationality are not judged to be relevant, since they are not raised as considerations. The notion seems to be that any positive feeling about the self, however arrived at and regardless of its grounds, equals "self-esteem."
We encounter this assumption in a much publicized research paper by Roy F. Baumeister, Joseph M. Boden, and Laura Smart, entitled "Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem," published in the Psychological Review (1996, Vol. 103, 5-33). In it the authors write:
Conventional wisdom has regarded low self-esteem as an important cause of violence, but the opposite view is theoretically viable. An interdisciplinary review of evidence about aggression, crime, and violence contradicted the view that low self-esteem is an important cause. Instead, violence appears to be most commonly a result of threatened egotism that is, highly favorable views of self that are disputed by some person or circumstance. Inflated, unstable, or tentative beliefs in the self's superiority may be most prone to encountering threats and hence to causing violence. The mediating process may involve directing anger outward as a way of avoiding a downward revision of the self-concept.
The article contains more astonishing statements than it is possible to quote, but here are a few representative examples:
"In our view, the benefits of favorable self-opinions accrue primarily to the self, and they are if anything a burden and potential problem to everyone else."
"By self-esteem we mean simply a favorable global evaluation of oneself. The term self-esteem has acquired highly positive connotations, but it has simple synonyms the connotations of which are more mixed, includingegotism, arroganceconceitedness, narcissism, and sense of superiority, which share the fundamental meaning of favorable self-evaluation."
"[W]e propose that the major cause of violence is high self-esteem combined with an ego threat [which is caused by someone challenging your self-evaluation]."
"Apparently, then, alcohol generally helps create a state of high self-esteem."
Observe, first of all, that there is nothing in the authors' idea of self-esteem that would allow one to distinguish between an individual whose self-esteem is rooted in the practices of living consciously, self-responsibility, and personal integrity that is, one whose self-esteem is rooted in reality and one whose "self-esteem" consists of grandiosity, fantasies of superiority, exaggerated notions of one's accomplishments, megalomania, and "favorable global self-evaluations" induced by drugs and alcohol. No definition of self-esteem or piece of research that obliterates a distinction of this fundamentality can make any claim to scientific legitimacy. It leaves reality out of its analysis.
One does not need to be a trained psychologist to know that some people with low self-esteem strive to compensate for their deficit by boasting, arrogance, and conceited behavior. What educated person does not know about compensatory defense mechanisms? Self-esteem is not manifested in the neurosis we call narcissism or in megalomania. One has to have a strange notion of the concept to equate in self-esteem the trail-blazing scientist or entrepreneur, moved by intellectual self-trust and a passion to discover or achieve, and the terrorist who must sustain his "high self-evaluation" with periodic fixes of torture and murder. To offer both types as instances of "high self-esteem" is to empty the term of any useable meaning.
An important purpose of fresh thinking is to provide us with new and valuable distinctions that will allow us to navigate more effectively through reality. What is the purpose of "thinking" that destroys distinctions already known to us that are of life-and-death importance?
It is tempting to comment on this report in greater detail because it contains so many instances of specious reasoning. However, such a discussion would not be relevant here, since my intention is only to show the importance of a precise understanding of self-esteem and also to show what can happen when consciousness and reality are omitted from the investigation.
So I will conclude with one last observation. In an interview given to a journalist, one of the researchers (Roy F. Baumeister), explaining his opposition to the goal of raising people's self-esteem, is quoted as saying: "Ask yourself: If everybody were 50 percent more conceited, would the world be a better place?"  The implication is clearly that self-esteem and conceit are the same thing both undesirable. Webster defines conceit as an exaggerated [therefore in defiance of facts] opinion of oneself and one's merits. No, the world would not be a better place if everybody were 50 percent more conceited. But would the world be a better place if everybody had earned a 50 percent higher level of self-esteem, by living consciously, responsibly, and with integrity? Yes, it would enormously.
Awareness of What Affects Our Self-Esteem
Self-esteem reflects our deepest vision of our competence and worth. Sometimes this vision is our most closely guarded secret, even from ourselves, as when we try to compensate for our deficiencies with what I call pseudo-self-esteem a pretense at a self-confidence and self-respect we do not actually feel. Nothing is more common than the effort to protect self-esteem not with consciousness but with unconsciousness with denial and evasion which only results in a further deterioration of self-esteem. Indeed a good deal of the behavior we call "neurotic" can be best understood as a misguided effort to protect self-esteem by means which in fact are undermining.
Whether or not we admit it, there is a level at which all of us know that the issue of our self-esteem is of the most burning importance. Evidence for this observation is the defensiveness with which insecure people may respond when their errors are pointed out. Or the extraordinary feats of avoidance and self-deception people can exhibit with regard to gross acts of unconsciousness and irresponsibility. Or the foolish and pathetic ways people sometimes try to prop up their egos by the wealth or prestige of their spouse, the make of their automobile, or the fame of their dress designer, or by the exclusiveness of their golf club. In more recent times, as the subject of self-esteem has gained increasing attention, one way of masking one's problems in this area is with the angry denial that self-esteem is significant (or desirable).
Not all the values with which people may attempt to support a pseudo-self-esteem are foolish or irrational. Productive work, for instance, is certainly a value to be admired, but if one tries to compensate for a deficient self-esteem by becoming a workaholic one is in a battle one can never win nothing will ever feel like "enough." Kindness and compassion are undeniably virtues, and they are part of what it means to lead a moral life, but they are no substitutes for consciousness, independence, self-responsibility, and integrity and when this is not understood they are often used as disguised means to buy "love" and perhaps even a sense of moral superiority: "I'm more kind and compassionate than you'll ever be and if I weren't so humble I'd tell you so."
One of the great challenges to our practice of living consciously is to pay attention to what in fact nurtures our self-esteem or deteriorates it. The reality may be very different from our beliefs. We may, for example, get a very pleasant "hit" from someone's compliment, and we may tell ourselves that when we win people's approval we have self-esteem, but then, if we are adequately conscious, we may notice that the pleasant feeling fades rather quickly and that we seem to be insatiable and never fully satisfied and this may direct us to wonder if we have thought deeply enough about the sources of genuine self-approval. Or we may notice that when we give our conscientious best to a task, or face a difficult truth with courage, or take responsibility for our actions, or speak up when we know that that is what the situation warrants, or refuse to betray our convictions, or persevere even when persevering is not easy our self-esteem rises. We may also notice that if and when we do the opposite, self-esteem falls. But of course all such observations imply that we have chosen to be conscious.
In the world of the future, children will be taught the basic dynamics of self-esteem and the power of living consciously and self-responsibly. They will be taught what self-esteem is, why it is important, and what it depends on. They will learn to distinguish between authentic self-esteem and pseudo-self-esteem. They will be guided to acquire this knowledge because it will have become apparent to virtually everyone that the ability to think (and to learn and to respond confidently to change) is our basic means of survival and that it cannot be faked. The purpose of school is to prepare young people for the challenges of adult life. They will need this understanding to be adaptive to an information age in which self-esteem has acquired such urgency. In a fiercely competitive global economy with every kind of change happening faster and faster there is little market for unconsciousness, passivity, or self-doubt. In the language of business, low self-esteem and underdeveloped mindfulness puts one at a competitive disadvantage. However, neither teachers in general nor teachers of self-esteem in particular can do their jobs properly or communicate the importance of their work until they themselves understand the intimate linkage that exists between the six practices described above, self-esteem, and appropriate adaptation to reality. "The world of the future" begins with this understanding.
-- eve (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 01, 2000
And another (from the same site)...
Self-Esteem in the Information Age
by Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D (NathanielBranden@compuserve.com) Copyright ) 1997, Nathaniel Branden, All Rights Reserved
This essay appears in the Drucker Foundation's collection of business essays, The Organization of the Future (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).
We have reached a moment in history when self-esteem, which has always been a supremely important psychological need, has become an urgent economic need the attribute imperative for adaptiveness to an increasingly complex, challenging, and competitive world.
We now live in a global economy characterized by rapid change, accelerating scientific and technological breakthroughs, and an unprecedented level of competitiveness. These developments create demands for higher levels of education and training than were required of previous generations. Everyone acquainted with business culture knows this. What is not equally understood is that these developments also create new demands on our psychological resources. Specifically, these developments ask for a greater capacity for innovation, self-management, personal responsibility, and self- direction. This is not just asked at the top. It is asked at every level of a business enterprise, from senior management to first-line supervisor and even to entry-level personnel.
A modern organization can no longer be run by a few people who think and many people who merely do what they are told. Today, organizations need not only a higher level of knowledge and skill among all those who participate but also a higher level of independence, self-reliance, self-trust, and the capacity to exercise initiative in a word, self-esteem. This means that persons with a decent level of self-esteem are now needed economically in large numbers. Historically, this is a new phenomenon.
Recent and emerging technological and economic realities may be driving our evolution as a species, commanding us to rise to a higher level than our ancestors. If this premise is correct, it is the most important development of the twentieth century and in its ramifications the least appreciated. It has profound implications for the organization of the future and the values that will have to be dominant in corporate culture values that serve and celebrate autonomy, innovativeness, self-responsibility, self-esteem (in contrast to such traditional values as obedience, conformity, and respect for authority).
The Roots of Self-Esteem
Let me begin with a definition. Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness . It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and manage change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment happiness are appropriate to us. The survival-value of such confidence is obvious; so is the danger when it is missing.
Over three decades of study have led me to identify six practices as the most essential to building self-esteem. All are relevant to the organization of the future.
The practice of living consciously: respect for facts; being present to what we are doing while we are doing it (e.g., if our customer, supervisor, employee, supplier, colleague is talking to us, being present to the encounter); seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge, or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects; seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world as well, so that we do not act out of self-blindness. When asked to account for the extraordinary transformation he achieved at General Electric, Jack Welch spoke of "self-confidence, candor, and an unflinching willingness to face reality, even when it's painful," which is the essence of living consciously.
The practice of self-acceptance: the willingness to own, experience, and take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning and also without self- repudiation; giving oneself permission to think one's thoughts, experience one's emotions, and look at one's actions without necessarily liking, endorsing or condoning them. If we are self- accepting, we do not experience ourselves as always "on trial," and what this leads to is non-defensiveness and willingness to hear critical feedback or different ideas without becoming hostile and adversarial.
The practice of self-responsibility: realizing that we are the authors of our choices and actions; that each one of us is responsible for our life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals; that if we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer values in exchange; and that the question is not "Who's to blame?" but always "What needs to be done?"
The practice of self-assertiveness: being authentic in our dealings with others; treating our values and persons with decent respect in social contexts; refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid someone's disapproval; the willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate circumstances.
The practice of living purposefully: identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them, organizing behavior in the service of those goals, monitoring action to be sure we stay on track and paying attention to outcome so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board. The practice of personal integrity: living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do; telling the truth, honoring our commitments, exemplifying in action the values we professes to admire; dealing with others fairly and benevolently. When we betray our values, we betray our mind, and self-esteem is an inevitable casualty.
A Leader's Self-Esteem
Leaders often do not recognize that "who they are" as people affects virtually every aspect of their organization. They do not appreciate the extent to which they are role models. Their smallest bits of behavior are noted and absorbed by those around them, not necessarily consciously, and reflected via those they influence throughout the entire organization. If a leader has unimpeachable integrity, a standard is set that others may feel drawn to follow. If a leader treats people with respect associates, subordinates, customers, suppliers that tends to translate into company culture.
The higher the self-esteem of the leader, the more likely it is that he or she can inspire the best in others. A mind that does not trust itself cannot inspire greatness in the minds of colleagues and subordinates. Neither can leaders inspire others if their primary need is to prove themselves right and others wrong. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, the problem of such insecure leaders is not that they have a big ego, but that they have a small one.)
If leaders wish to create a high self-esteem/high performance organization, the first step is to work on themselves: to work on raising their own level of consciousness, self-responsibility, etc. They need to address the question: Do I exemplify in my behavior the traits I want to see in our people? (Or am I like the parent who says, "Do as I say, not as I do?) This principle, of course, applies not only to CEOs but to managers on every level.
This leads to the question: How does an individual work on his or her own self-esteem? I discuss this question at length in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, but here are a few suggestions.
Working on One's Own Self-Esteem
The practices that cultivate and strengthen self-esteem are also expressions of self-esteem. The relationship is reciprocal. If I operate consciously, I grow in self-esteem; if I have a decent level of self-esteem, the impulse to operate consciously feels natural. If I operate self-responsibly, I strengthen self-esteem; if I have self- esteem, I tend to operate self-responsibly. If I integrate the six practices into my daily existence, I develop high self-esteem; if I enjoy high self-esteem, I tend to manifest the six practices in my daily activities.
If we want to learn to operate more consciously, we need to ask ourselves, What would I do (or do differently) if I brought five percent more consciousness to my dealings with other people? If I brought five percent more consciousness to, for example, implementing our mission, rethinking strategy, creating more outlets for individual creativity and innovativeness in our organization? What facts do I need to examine that I have avoided examining?
Or again, if I operated five percent more self-acceptingly, or self- responsibly, or self-assertively, or purposefully, or with greater integrity, what would I do differently? Am I willing to experiment with those behaviors now?
If I recognize that if I brought five percent more self-esteem to my dealings with people I would treat them more generously, why not do so now? If I know that with more self-esteem I would better protect my people, why not do so now? If I understand that with higher self- esteem I would face unpleasant facts more straightforwardly, why not choose to do so now?
When we do what we know is right, we build self-esteem. And when we betray that knowledge, we subvert self-esteem.
Encouraging Self-Esteem in an Organization
A few suggestions for leaders and managers who wish to encourage consciousness in their people:
Provide easy access not only to the information they need to do their job, but also about the wider context in which they work the goals and progress of the organization so they can understand how their activities relate to the organization's overall mission and agenda. Offer opportunities for continuous learning and upgrading of skills. Send out the signal in as many ways as possible that yours is a learning organization.
If someone does superior work or makes an excellent decision, invite him or her to explore how and why it happened. Do not limit yourself simply to praise. By asking appropriate questions, help raise the person's consciousness about what made the achievement possible, and thereby increase the likelihood that others like it will occur in the future. If someone does unacceptable work or makes a bad decision, practice the same principle. Do not limit yourself to corrective feedback. Invite an exploration of what made error possible, thus raising the level of consciousness and minimizing the likelihood of a repetition.
Avoid overdirecting, overobserving, and overreporting. Excessive managing ("micromanaging") is the enemy of autonomy and creativity. Plan and budget appropriately for innovation. Do not ask for people's innovative best and then announce there is no money (or other resources) because the danger is that creative enthusiasm (expanded consciousness) will dry up and be replaced by demoralization (shrunken consciousness).
Stretch your people. Assign tasks and projects slightly beyond their known capabilities.
Keep handing responsibility down.
For encouraging self-acceptance:
When you talk with your people, be present to the experience. Make eye contact, listen actively, offer appropriate feedback, give the speaker the experience of being heard and accepted.
Regardless of who you are talking to, maintain a tone of respect. Do not permit yourself a condescending, superior, sarcastic, or blaming tone.
Keep encounters regarding work task-centered, not ego-centered. Never permit a dispute to deteriorate into a conflict of personalities. The focus needs to be on reality "What is the situation?" "What does the work require?" "What needs to be done?"
Describe undesirable behavior without blaming. Let someone know if his or her behavior is unacceptable: point out its consequences, communicate the kind of behavior you want instead, and omit character assassination.
Let your people see that you talk honestly about your feelings: if you are hurt or angry or offended, say so straightforwardly with dignity (and give everyone a lesson in the strength of self- acceptance).
For encouraging self-responsibility:
Communicate that self-responsibility is expected and create opportunities for it. Give your people space to take the initiative, volunteer ideas, and expand their range.
Set clear and unequivocal performance standards. Let people understand your nonnegotiable expectations regarding the quality of work.
Elicit from people their understanding of what they are accountable for, so as to assure that their understanding and yours is the same. Elicit a clear statement of what precisely they are committed to being responsible for.
Publicize and celebrate unusual instances of self-responsibility . For encouraging self-assertiveness:
Teach that errors and mistakes are opportunities for learning. "What can you learn from what happened?" is a question that builds self- esteem, encourages self-assertiveness, expands consciousness, and promotes not repeating mistakes.
Let your people see that it's safe to make mistakes or say "I don't know, but I will find out." To evoke fear of error or ignorance is to invite deception, inhibition, and an end to self-assertive creativity.
Let your people see that it's safe to disagree with you: convey respect for differences of opinion and do not punish dissent.
Work at changing aspects of the organization's culture that undermine self-assertiveness (and self-esteem). Traditional procedures, originating in an older model of management, may stifle not only self- esteem but also any creativity or innovation (such as requiring that all significant decisions by passed up the chain of command, thus leaving those close to the action disempowered and paralyzed).
Find out what the central interests of your people are and, whenever possible, match tasks and objectives with individual dispositions.
Give people an opportunity to do what they enjoy most and do best; build on people's strengths.
For encouraging purposefulness:
Ask your people what they would need in order to feel more in control of their work and, if possible, give it to them. If you want to promote autonomy, excitement, and a strong commitment to goals, empower, empower, empower.
Give your people the resources, information, and authority to do what you have asked them to do. Remember that there can be no responsibility without power, and nothing can so undermine purposefulness as assigning the first without giving the second.
Help your people to understand how their work relates to the overall mission of the organization, so that they always operate with a grasp of the wider context. In the absence of this grasp of context, it is difficult to sustain purposefulness.
Encourage everyone to keep measuring results against stated goals and objectives and disseminate this information widely.
For encouraging integrity:
Exemplify that which you wish to see in others. Tell the truth. Keep promises. Honor commitments. Let there be perceived congruence between what you profess and what you do. And not just with insiders but with everyone you deal with suppliers, customers, etc.
If you make a mistake in your dealings with someone, are unfair or short-tempered, admit it and apologize. Do not imagine (like some autocratic parent) that it would demean your dignity or position to admit taking an action you regret.
Invite your people to give you feedback on the kind of boss you are. (Remember that you are the kind of manager your people say you are.) Let your people see that you honestly want to know how you affect them, and that you are open to learning and self-correction. Set an example of nondefensiveness.
Convey in every way possible that your commitment is to operate as a thoroughly moral company, and look for opportunities to reward and publicize unusual instances of ethical behavior in your people.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion I will quote my friend and colleague, Warren Bennis, who made an observation that goes to the heart of the matter: "About any behavior that is thought to be desirable by an organization, it's useful to ask: Is this behavior rewarded, punished, or ignored? The answer to this question tells you what an organization really cares about, not what it says it cares about."
 From The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (New York: Bantam Books, 1994).
 A more detailed discussion of how one creates an organizational culture of high accountability is offered in Taking Responsibility (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
-- eve (email@example.com), July 01, 2000.