Close

Leaders, social media and self-esteem

Social media can be a great boon for any leader in an organisation - but it can also undermine leadership by harming self-esteem, says Sarah Pearce.

There have been many conversations and speculations about what the short and long-term psychological impacts of using social media so frequently and pervasively might be. The truth is we can really only start assessing the short-term impacts now – the platforms are simply too new to reveal anything meaningful in the long-term just yet. One recent study included in-depth interviews with active social media users. One of the more notable findings was that 60% of users reported that they feel use of social media platforms has a negative impact on their self-esteem.

This isn’t the first attempt to study the relationship between social media and self-esteem, and since this is an emerging social phenomenon, it certainly won’t be the last. The general premise behind these studies asserts that people feel bad when they look at social media because they compare themselves to the others that they see. This leads to a feeling of not being where they should or want to be. We use others as benchmarks to measure our own progress and even when we consciously know that the other posts are ‘highlights,’ the psychological effect remains.

Ultimately, there can be a strong link between self-esteem and one’s leadership skills. In typical leadership discussions, there tends to be a focus on an individual’s interactions with others, or their outward behaviours, instead of their self-esteem or self-perceptions, which have an inward focus. The bottom line is that higher self-esteem translates into self-respect and self-confidence, which in turn prompts respect for others. Ultimately, this is done by engaging others, as well as promoting their own self-esteem by increasing awareness and efficacy within the workplace.  These leaders promote meaningful and respectful business relationships, both for themselves as well as others.

Some of the behaviours associated with high self-esteem leadership include:        

  • Accepting both positive and negative feedback AND making changes when necessary.
  • Being self-assured in the decision-making process.
  • Not feeling threatened by other individuals’ intelligence or ability.
  • Sharing knowledge with others.
  • Knowing when to credit others for their contributions.
  • Having confidence in their team, in addition to themselves.
  • Being respectful to themselves and to others.
  • Being resilient by focusing on solutions rather than getting weighed down with details.

So, if there is a negative link between social media use and the ability to lead, should leaders avoid the platform? Definitely not. Should they be aware of this link? Certainly. Awareness is the first step in limiting its ability to have a negative impact. Fortunately, there are other key actions, behaviours and attitudes that can help combat social media’s potentially depressive effect.

The most constructive way to use social media is to connect with others, not to overshare or compare yourself to them. Even though comparison is a natural human behaviour, social media presents a skewed perspective. You see just the tiniest sliver of someone’s life - framed exactly the way they want it to be framed. If you start to forget this, just head over to your own profile page and view it as others might. You’ll notice that you are also likely presenting the very best sides of yourself and your life, meaning there are probably others who think you ‘have it all’ too.

Maintaining a positive attitude in all of your social media interactions can go a long way toward keeping your overall mood, and the mood of others, positive. Studies have shown that negative comments and bad moods on social media can be contagious. Posting negative statuses on your page increases the amount of negative posts in your social network community. Similarly, spreading a positive message can have a positive effect for your digital community. In the long run, this will be far more gratifying than posting anything negative or sarcastic.

It’s also very wise to be selective about who you are surrounding yourself with, both in real life and online. Being selective and periodically ‘weeding out’ those who are negative, or with whom you simply don’t interact anymore can help to keep your social media community healthy. Having more friends should never be the focus as that can actually increase stress and anxiety levels in some people. Rather than focusing on quantity, focus on the quality of your network; select positive people or those that you can learn from.

If all else fails, then take a break from social media. Reclaiming your time and tuning everything out once in a while can work wonders on a person’s perspective. Whether for a few hours, or a few days, a break from the constant barrage of messages to simply focus on other tasks can be a welcome relief. It is likely you will return with a much more positive attitude and a balanced outlook.

The best approach to social media for a leader should be one marked by autonomy, control and an awareness of its many pitfalls. They should use social platforms wisely and moderately in order to maintain their own self-esteem and promote a positive experience for their entire digital and professional communities.

Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach, social strategist and author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age.