I’ve been a consultant to a couple of organisations where it’s hard to get to the truth: the facts about a situation, an opportunity or a problem that they are facing. They tell you what they require and their expected outcomes, but don’t really divulge the apparent complexities of the presenting issues – people problems, authority struggles, disempowerment contexts, financial restraints, etc. Asking relevant questions in the pre-assessment stage also doesn’t seem to yield sufficient information – when asking managers, supervisors and other employees to offer their opinions on current issues, one is met with shrugged shoulders and a rather typical response: “I don’t really know. You will have to speak to the boss”. Apart from being frustrating to me, the consultant, I have also noticed in these interviews that all staff, managers and employees alike, feel disgruntled with the situation and seemingly totally disempowered – all decision-making takes place in the senior’s office behind closed doors with only the same select few always present. Employees are not involved besides going about their daily tasks. Of particular note, I have observed in these “secretive” companies that self-esteem is particularly low amongst most of the staff.
Dr Nathaniel Brandon, a psychologist who is considered the leading pioneer in the field of self-esteem, defines self-esteem as:
- Confidence in our ability to think,
- Confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life, and
- Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values and enjoy the fruits of our efforts
He adds: “If man is to achieve and maintain self-esteem, the first and fundamental requirement is that he preserves an indomitable will to understand. The desire for clarity, for intelligibility, for comprehension of that which falls within the range of his awareness is the guardian of man’s mental health and the motor of his intellectual growth. Unfortunately, this attitude is usually relinquished or breached very early in a person’s life and the person “adjusts” to the sense of living in an unintelligible, bewildering and frightening universe, in which cognitive self-confidence is impossible”.
When authentic self-esteems are repressed in organisations, not only do employees start looking elsewhere for other employment opportunities, but the absence thereof strongly impacts negatively on the culture and values of the company. Where self-esteem was once viewed as a personal issue, it is now being better understood as an important ingredient in the construction of a synergistic, confident and productive workforce. Indecision, fear, lack of trust, communication deficiencies, poor leadership, resistance to change and a lack of innovation are all fuelled by the lack of self-esteem in the workplace. A secretive leadership style further compounds the problem.
A transparent environment, on the other hand, where the CEO’s feelings about issues are clearly understood, where ideas and individual contributions are recognised and rewarded and where employees are valued as individuals, goes a long way to grow the self-esteem of staff. The following issues deserve attention:
- Setting clear and non-contradictory guidelines as an environment in which people can work
- Getting commensurate authority to levels of responsibility for all staff
- Encouraging a problem-solving environment where innovation is rewarded
- Ensuring communication channels are open and transparent
- Developing an environment that encourages constructive feedback
- Drawing the dotted line between a person’s job and the “big picture” of the company’s direction and strategy to get there
- Performance managing through daily discussions with subordinates
- Encouraging openness and honesty, even with mistakes, from which everyone can learn
- Making sure that reward systems are aligned to performance around strategy
A secretive organisation damages the self-esteem of employees. If the organisation is committed to the value and worth of employees, however, its leadership will ensure the development of its staff and tap into their talents, abilities and strengths. Nathaniel Brandon noted: “The economic need for large numbers of people with decent levels of self-esteem is unprecedented and represents a turning point…”