Harvey MacKay: You can only get as high as your self-esteem

The next time someone calls you an egotistical jerk, you should thank him or her for the opinion. They have just provided a strong endorsement of your mental health.

Self-esteem is a lightning-rod buzzword these days, mostly because it is often perceived as being a personality flaw. But the real flaw is false self-esteem: the result of heaping praise on people for accomplishing routine and simple tasks.

What management and employees need is legitimately earned high self-esteem, the kind that comes from performing well because you have worked so hard to reach the top. It means you have developed your natural talents to their optimal point. The kind that Will Rogers was talking about when he said, "If you done it, it ain't bragging."

Genuinely deserved self-esteem provides a competitive edge in our competitive world. Like it or not, life is a series of competitions. You may be competing for a grade, a spot on a team, a job or the largest account in town. The higher your self-esteem is, the better you get along with yourself, with others, and the more you'll accomplish.

Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden discovered an additional benefit to having high self-esteem: "There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness and generosity."

What's the matter with being proud of what we have done or think we can do? When we're young, we're full of the sense that we can and should be able to do almost anything. That enthusiasm shouldn't change as we get older and more experienced. Our accomplishments should reinforce our sense of self-worth.

Dr. Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington, calls it the "egocentricity bias." This is the reinterpretation of events to put ourselves in a favorable light and the belief we have more control over events than we actually do. He says it is a sign of mental well-being.

That makes perfect sense to me. Dr. Greenwald can call it the "egocentricity bias," but I call it optimism. And I believe optimism is a quality that consistently delivers results. Did you ever get a good performance out of a pessimist? (By the way, few people ever call themselves pessimists. Pessimists usually call themselves realists.)

Optimism involves self-delusion, a belief that our own abilities are superior to the obstacles that logically should overcome us. But that's exactly what's needed to perform any heavy-duty assignment.

How can you be any good unless you think you can accomplish what you're not supposed to be able to accomplish?

Olympic skating star Scott Hamilton observed: "Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless."

There is no better example of the power of positive self-esteem than Muhammad Ali. He called himself "The Greatest" -- actually, "The Greatest of All Time." He never doubted his ability to compete at the highest level, and his record proves it.

Top performers in athletics or business are always convinced that they can be heroes, even if they don't shout it from the rooftops. And it shows.

Mackay's Moral: If you've got what it takes, take it to the top.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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