This article is one of four academic pieces on the implications of the different theories of self-esteem for Executive Coaching. Here I look at what self-esteem is and its nature and structure. The references for all four articles are contained in the last one.
Is Self-Esteem Important ?
Mruk (1999) explains that he is always cautious when talking to a lay audience about self-esteem because they make the common and unfortunate mistake that ‘Self-Esteem is so important. If only we could enhance it, then everything would be alright’ (p. 69). Prior to doing some research on the topic of self-esteem, I would admit to have being prone to the same type of thinking. As I studied in more depth I started to recognise how important the theories and concepts of self-esteem may be to developmental coaching. In my leadership coaching practice although self-esteem is rarely requested as an explicit topic for coaching, I began to realise that it may be present in one form or another (Maxwell and Bachkirova, 2009) and have an underlying influence on the coaching process.
Nature and Structure of Self-Esteem
Baumeister (1999) explains that in his view there are three types of human experience that form the basis of selfhood. The self is discovered and created through interpersonal relationships and an important role of the self is to enable people to relate to each other. The self acts as an executive function which makes it possible for the individual to make choices and decisions. The third experience is reflexive consciousness, the ability to be self-aware. Baumeister sees self-esteem as an aspect of reflexive consciousness; it involves the evaluative dimension of self-knowledge.
It appears that there is no consistent or agreed upon definition of self-esteem (Emler, 2001). Writers on the subject appear to fall into two categories, there are those who see it as a generalised feeling about the self and those that take the ‘view it is the sum of a set of judgements about a person’s ‘value, worthiness and competencies in a set of domains’ (Emler, 2001, p.1). Mruk (1999) reviews the nature of the definitions of a number of writers and finds that they focus on the component of worth, or competence, or both, and he produces an integrative definition that reflects both components ‘Self-Esteem is the lived status of one’s competence in dealing with the challenges of living in a worthy way over time’ (p.26).
The two components of worth and competence are seen as interactive and their sum is greater than either one individually. Mruk goes on to give a more detailed description of the type of factors and judgements that have an influence on each component. I have found in when coaching on the topic of self-esteem that Mruk’s conceptualisation helps clients become more aware of the types of judgments they are making about themselves in the domains of competence and worth. I take the view that a definition taking a more generalised overall approach, although useful, may not have provided such insight as easily.
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