Samantha Cleaver's writes in, Too Much of A Good Thing?
For decades our culture has concentrated on teaching self-esteem first, learning second. In the late 1980s, a California government task force found no connection between low self-esteem and societal ills, such as drug use, teen pregnancy, and school underachievement. Still, California forged ahead with a self-esteem education plan. Today, raising children's self-esteem continues to be a primary goal in the classroom, and a goal of parents at home.
Downplaying grades, praising children for minimal effort, or using neutral-colored green or purple pens to comment on written work seems harmless enough, but we may be taking away the sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from genuine achievement.
Self-esteem, self-confidence and arrogance are different. They result from different inputs, and manifest in the way people define themselves. In Lead By Greatness I describe it in the following way:
ARROGANCE: I define myself by what I have got.
SELF-CONFIDENCE: I define myself by what I have achieved.
SELF-ESTEEM: I define myself by who I am.
In terms of these definitions then, in our schools not only are we failing to give children a sense of true self-confidence (because the praise and recognition we give them is not congruent with their objective accomplishments), we are not even giving them self-esteem. We may simply be feeding their arrogance, with "what they have got" -- grades, certificates and accolades -- rather than nourishing their self-esteem and building their confidence with "what they have genuinely accomplished" and "who they are as upright, valuable individuals".
The same applies in business leadership. When we criticize the people we lead constructively for performance that is sub-standard, it give more meaning to the praise and recognition we give them when they do exceptionally. Nothing devalues appreciation so much as when we dish it out indiscriminately. Paying performers and non-performers the same, or close to the same, further dilutes the value of our leadership message. When we praise indiscriminately "we may be taking away the sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from genuine achievement."
We should set realistic, but somewhat aspirational goals both for the children we raise and for the teams we lead.
We should be abundantly generous with the recognition we give to those who play a valuable part in the team's achievement and certainly for the individuals who excel.
We should be equally generous with the support we offer people to help them realize their goals.
We can be sympathetic and empathetic to those who, despite real effort, fail to reach their goals.
However we should never accept of anything but people's best, because they are worthy of achieving their best and being recognized for it.