This article is the second of four academic pieces on the implications of the different theories of self-esteem for Executive Coaching. Here I look at the links between self-esteem and job performance. The references for all four articles are contained in the last one.
In the business setting the purpose of coaching is generally to meet the gap between performance and potential based on objectives agreed with the sponsoring organisation and client (Rogers, 2008). If working on self-esteem a coach may need to give consideration to the association between self-esteem and positive behavioural or emotional outcomes.
The Links Between Self-Esteem and Performance
Baumeister et al. (2003) find modest correlation between self-esteem and job performance, although Strauss (2005) notes a number of studies where more support for an association has been found. Baumeister et al. (2003) observe that there is evidence that people with high self-esteem are more persistent in the face of failure, more likely to initiate personal relationships, speak out in work groups and be prepared to propose directions for action. There also appear to be links between self-esteem and happiness, overall life satisfaction, and tolerance to stress or traumatic events. Many of these outcomes may be beneficial as a result of coaching. However Baumeister et al. (2003) provide a cautionary note in relation to this research and that is in some cases the causal direction is not clear or another variable may be involved. This may have relevance in coaching when working on a topic where there is an association between self-esteem and an outcome. It may be that the achievement of the coaching goal would improve self-esteem, or alternatively building self-esteem may support goal achievement. Although this may be a complicating factor, a coach should consider this point whilst aiming to achieve the contract agreed with the sponsor.
Rosenberg et al. (1995) suggest that it is because many researchers use measures of global rather than domain-specific self-esteem in their studies that it is often difficult to find a strong link between self-esteem and behaviour. Pierce et al. (1993) propose that the concept of Organisational Based Self-Esteem (OBSE) is an approach more likely to identify links between self-esteem and performance. Perhaps if more positive associations could be found between self-esteem and performance it would lead to a greater focus on the subject in the coaching literature where as Bachkirova (2004) comments there is little coverage at present.
Having looked at the potential benefits of building self-esteem it is worth noting that Ryan and Brown (2003) propose that ‘the self of “self-esteem” is a reification, a constructed image’ that leads people to focus too much on external contingencies such as achievements and relationships. Ryan and Brown argue that true psychological health comes from operating as ‘one’s true self’. Whilst I can see the benefit of this stance I imagine it may be problematic to enable coaching clients to achieve this state given the focus on positive self-esteem in western culture (Crocker, 2002).
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