High Self-Esteem Is The Key To Success

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is; but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In October of 1987, the first national conference was held on self-esteem. In January of 1989, the Gallup Poll found that the second-most important thing to Americans was a good self-image. And ever since that time, the evidence has been mounting that self-esteem is one of the keys to employee engagement and productivity … not to mention personal happiness and professional success.

Of course, Dr. Maxwell Maltz was preaching that same message some 30 years earlier when he wrote his classic book, “Psycho-Cybernetics.” He said high self-esteem is THE key to success. The person who “sees” himself as a winner almost always does better than the person who “sees” himself as a loser. In fact, the person who sees himself as a “failure” will find some way to fail despite his good intentions and natural abilities.

That’s why my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program starts with a focus on self-esteem … how you build it and maintain it. I tell the participants, “It’s not who you are that holds you back; it’s who you think you’re not.”


The good news is self-image can be changed. Self-esteem can be built. And the more you do to raise the self-esteem of others, the more you get from those other people.

Unfortunately, the whole task of motivating others or improving their performance has often seemed liked a daunting task … because our change efforts have been misdirected. Workshop after workshop has focused on peripheral skills and concepts, but very few of them have focused on actually changing the center — which is the other person’s self-esteem. As a result, many workshops don’t produce lasting results.

If you focus on raising the other person’s self-esteem, however, you release amazing potential. The other person’s performance is easily and automatically increased.

So that begs the question…


I spend a few hours answering that question on my 6-pack CD album, “The Relationship Factor.” It all comes down to planting and nurturing a few self-esteem seeds. As novelist Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

FIRST, believe in the other person.

More than anything else, it is your attitude toward the people in your office, classroom, or family that will determine the success or failure of your attempts to increase their self-esteem. If the other person knows you expect good things from her, she will in most cases go to great lengths to live up to your expectations.

It’s like that banker who often dropped a coin in the beggar’s cup. Unlike most people, the banker would insist on getting one of the pencils the beggar had with him.

The banker would say, “You are a merchant, and I always expect to receive good value from the merchants with whom I do business.”

One day the beggar was gone. Some years later the banker walked by a shop, and there was the former beggar, now a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper said, “I always hoped you might come by some day. You are largely responsible for me being here. You kept telling me I was a merchant. I started to think of myself that way. Instead of a beggar receiving gifts, I started selling pencils, lots of them. You gave me self-respect and caused me to look at myself differently.”

So ask yourself, “Do you believe in others? Do you see the beggar or the merchant in those around you?”

SECOND, believe in the other person’s drive.

You see … everyone has a drive to achieve something. It may be buried under piles of mental garbage, and it may be hard to see. But deep inside, everyone has a passion to be a somebody.

If you tap into that drive, that desire to succeed, you will find people working harder for you than anyone else. As Jennie Jerome Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill put it, “Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.”

THIRD, accept the other person.

Of course, you may be saying, “Whoa! Hold it, Dr. Zimmerman. How can I possibly accept some people whose behavior is simply not acceptable?”

Good question. I would never suggest that you “approve” of inappropriate or unproductive behavior. But I would advise you to “accept” the person behind those behaviors. As author and speaker Dr. Blaine Lee would say, “You can’t change people with mega doses of information.

People change themselves after mini doses of acceptance from people who care. Acceptance is harder to give than advice — but infinitely more valuable.”

The key comes down to one point: Accept the person. Correct the behavior.

And no one did it better than Coach John Wooden. He would say, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” And as a result, he became one of the winningest coaches of all time … pulling remarkable abilities out of his athletes. They knew they were accepted even when they were corrected.

To walk that fine line, to give acceptance as well as correction, to raise self-esteem at the same time you’re trying to change someone’s attitudes and behaviors, make sure you use some of the following techniques that come mostly from Dale Carnegie.

*Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

*Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

*Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

*Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

*Let the other person save face.

*Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.

*Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

*Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

*Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.


The research is in. Self-esteem is a really big deal … because people perform exactly as they see themselves. Help your people to “see” themselves more positively, and they will perform more effectively.

Action:  What are you doing … directly or indirectly … to let your people know you BELIEVE in them?