If you lack the self-assurance, you’ll find it hard to reach the next plateau because you think, “I can’t make it. I’m no good. I don’t have what it takes. Why even try?”

You may feel devalued, insignificant, powerless to control what happens to you. But you can boost your self-esteem the same way you can improve your self-image: through your own self-talk. We limit ourselves by the way that we think.

If your team talk is negative and limiting, you limit your ability to change and grow. Your team will move toward and become what you think and talk about. If you dwell on being powerless and insignificant, your team members will say, “Okay, coach, whatever you say.” They will start leaning toward a negative, locked-on, limiting view of themselves as ineffective and powerless.

High-performance teams have high team esteem. Team esteem is your collective confidence and respect. It’s how good you all feel about being you; it’s your positive feeling of dignity and worth. And it affects what you can achieve. The better you feel about yourself, the better you perform and behave. So you can talk yourself into being very positive, strong, firm, committed, powerful, and assured. You can talk yourself into taking risks, trying new adventures, learning new skills, extending yourself to new people, and new places. In fact, everything you do corresponds to your self-esteem.

team failure

Occasionally we all run into negative wizards who load us down with heavy weights. Bosses with low self-esteem themselves chip away at their employees’ self-respect and self-worth. These people then block themselves with careless, negative self-talk simply because they believe the observations of someone else.

If you continue that pattern in your organization, you’ll find it difficult to compete, because you don’t respect your own products or opinions. You need applause, approval, compliments, and reassurance from the outside: “Please tell us: Do we look all right?” “Do you think we can do that job?” “Are we doing the right thing?” You only sanction what some person or group on the outside says to you, which further damages team esteem.

If you have high team esteem, you have a healthy “can-do” attitude and respect your own opinions and products. Many of us have a mistaken idea about humility. We are raised to believe that thinking well of ourselves is wrong. We were taught, “Don’t get a swelled head. Nobody likes a braggart.” In other words, “If you start thinking you’re good, I’ll point out 100 things that are wrong with you.” As a result, we tend to reject what’s good in us. We accept and then affirm, “We’re lousy.” Even if we affirm ”We only excel at one thing,” we tend to improve our performance in all other areas. Our subconscious picks up the positive message, too.

In high-performance teams, humility simply means “Credit where credit is due.” If somebody helps you to succeed, give them credit. If you succeed on your own, give yourself credit.

I once worked with the staff in a federal penitentiary, and I met a young man who had been behind bars for a long time, but who was scheduled to be released. I asked him, “What kind of job will you get?” He said, “Anything.” In his mind, he was saying, “I’ve been in prison. I’m a bad person. I don’t deserve a good job.” I said, “How much do you think you ought to get paid?” He said, ”Whatever.” He’d been beaten down by so many people in his life, and for so long in prison, that he’d lost his own self-worth. So he told himself, “Whatever people are willing to pay me is all I deserve.”

I said, “You’ll probably be looking for a car to get around in, right?” He said, “Yeah, probably.” I said, “What kind of car?” He said, “Just some wheels.” In other words, “Any old junker is good enough for me.” Do you see what can happen when you have a diminished sense of self-esteem in your family or on your team? Anything will be good enough. Then I said, “Someday, you’ll want to find a girl and get married, won’t you?” He said, “I suppose so.” I said, “What kind of a girl are you hoping to find?” You can guess his answer. He said, “Anything.” It’s sad and tragic. What kind of girl would most likely be drawn to him? A girl looking for “anything,” too.

why you fail

Prison is full of people with low-self-esteem. Out in the yard, at meals, even in the cell blocks, they rip and tear and devalue. You rarely hear a good word said about anybody. If you have low esteem, you belittle others. A husband with low self-esteem can’t stand to have a wife who thinks highly of herself. If she has a job that he considers better than his, he might say to her, “You’ll never hold that job. You can’t even organize the house.” In other words, “Get back down where you belong.” Parents with low self-esteem won’t allow their children to rise above them. They’ll say to their child, “What makes you think you’re so good? You can’t even do your chores right at home.” Low self esteem managers are faultfinding, sarcastic, belittling, angry managers who are threatened by employees with high self-esteem. Teachers with low self-esteem won’t let kids in their classroom think better of themselves than they do of the teacher: “Don’t be a know-it-all. If I need your help, I’ll ask for it.”

Be aware of conditions in your family, at your job, in your relationships, in your community, because the self esteem of those around you can also have a profound effect on you.

We draw ourselves into the relationships, the jobs, the teams, the incomes that we feel worthy of receiving. That’s why you need to work at building your self-esteem, your team esteem, your family esteem. For example, you can continually upgrade your children’s self-esteem by telling them, “You’re a good person.” “You’re a brave swimmer.” “You’re nice to your sister.” “You’re smart.” But beware. They will go out to the playground and the streets, and somebody else will tell them they aren’t worth anything, and they might get careless with their self-talk: “They’re right. I’m not worth very much.” Other people will try to take away their heart, their brains, and their guts. As a leader, you must stay strong and constructive, and continue to bolster team esteem. Of course, to do that, you need to build high self-esteem in yourself and others.