Is Your Self-Worth Based on What Others Think and Say?

How much of your power are you giving away to others? Maybe, too much if your self-worth is based on what others think and say about you!

In his famous Three Needs Theory, the psychologist David McClelland explains how all of us have varying needs for affiliation (acceptance), achievement (recognition), and power (control). The affiliation and achievement needs have a strong social component. We have a need to belong to a group. And, we want to be recognized by that group for our efforts. This is how we are wired internally. These needs for acceptance and achievement become a problem when we tie them too closely to our self-worth, however.

When we allow the opinions and words of others to negatively impact our opinion of our own self worth, we give these people too much power over us. As a leader, business professional or as a person in general, we should always be open to the input of others. We should admit our mistakes and commit to becoming better managers and people in general. But, as I repeat frequently on this blog, any strength that we over utilize becomes a weakness.

Caring too much about what others think and say about you is unhealthy! When your self-worth is tied to whether others let you belong (or remain) in their group or whether others acknowledge your clearly evident good efforts, you set yourself up for failure. Worse, you may be putting yourself in an emotional prison of your own making.

Is your self-worth based on what others think and say about you? Here’s four reasons why caring too much about whether others accept you in their group and recognize your good efforts is unwise:

1. You May Be Working for a Boss with Poor Skills

Sadly, there are more than a few bad bosses in organizations today. You may be working for a boss who has poor managerial skills and cannot operate his department effectively. Or, your boss may be insecure and intimidated by your skills that are superior to his own. You cannot always choose your boss but you can choose whether you will take all of his criticisms of you to heart and allow them to affect your self-worth.

You may not be the problem. The problem may be your boss. Accept feedback from this individual for your own shortcomings where it is warranted. Don’t let him give you responsibility for his own failings, however. Finally, as one savvy middle manager did, protect yourself from this boss by producing quality work and establishing quality relationships in the organization.

2. It May Be Personal

It would be wonderful if life was fair, but as every child learns sooner or later—it’s just not so! While we have made significant progress in removing barriers in the workplace, the fact is that bias still remains. Some people may not want you in their group and they may never acknowledge you for your efforts–despite the merits of your work. Whether its your gender, race, age, national origin, etc., their issue with you is personal. They are uncomfortable with who you are and they deal with you by ignoring you and your achievements.

While it is important to stand up for yourself particularly where it affects your career and professional well being, it’s unwise to expect much from these individuals. Unless they grow beyond their biases, at best, they will tolerate you but never truly accept you. Create your own circle with other supportive people who do not have these biases!  Finally, never let people who exclude you from their circles affect your self-worth. The loss is theirs not yours!

3. It May be Office Politics

Sometimes you may find others exclude you from their group and do not acknowledge your efforts for other reasons. It is not personal—it’s political. You may work for a boss whose influence in the organization is decreasing and in the mind of her rivals you are an extension of her. You may be working in a part of the organization that is in conflict with other more powerful departments. You could be in the midst of an organizational turf battle on how work is done or how resources are allocated. As a result, your exclusion is organizational not personal.

What’s important is that you not internalize the exclusion you feel from others. Don’t make it personal when it’s political. Correctly diagnose the situation so you can gain the acceptance and acknowledgement that you deserve. Though office politics are inevitable, they do not have to paralyze you. You may have to work with others to navigate these difficult waters. Before you take any action, however, make sure that you account for the organizational culture and values of your organization and the behavioral styles and values of the people with whom you work. An action that is acceptable in one organization may destroy your managerial career in another.

4. You May Become an Easy Target for Manipulation

Many of us who blog about leadership rightly focus on its positive side. We talk about a shared vision, the ability to inspire others to follow one’s lead, effective communication, the ability to effect change, etc. We speak of leaders who demonstrated these traits: Mahatma Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt,  Herb Kelleher, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and many others.

There is a dark side to leadership that many of us do not address as frequently, however. Some of the worst people in history were also effective leaders. They developed a shared vision, inspired others to follow their lead, effected change, and communicated clearly—only they were not ethical. They were masters at focusing on the human need for acceptance and recognition and manipulating people to carry out their selfish and sometimes heinous agendas. While you may never meet an individual who could qualify as “one of the worst people in history,” you may come across an unethical leader who knows how to manipulate individuals who have an excessive need for acceptance and recognition. These leaders manipulate their followers to support a selfish and flawed agenda.

To combat these masters, develop a healthy sense of your own self-worth and be self-aware. Know your strengths and your limitations and never stop thinking for yourself.

No person can be an island to themselves in business and life. We need others. Building healthy social relationships requires self awareness and emotional intelligence. It also requires an openness to constructive feedback and the willingness to take responsibility for one’s shortcomings.  As you take these important steps, however, don’t fall into the trap of letting your self-worth become tied to what others think and say about you. Like the rest of us, you may not be perfect, but you are definitely worth something!

Don’t let anyone take your self-worth away from you!

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.— Eleanor Roosevelt

* Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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