Be Authentically Proud of Who You Are

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Being proud of who you are is really about understanding your self-worth. Consider the following story:

There was a woman who worked for me who suffered from a crisis of confidence in her own worth. She was extremely technically competent in her job, a friend to those around her, and a good leader. Her lack of confidence, however, manifested itself in how she valued her own sense of worth–she defined it by what people thought of her and the “face” she presented to the world. One day I learned that she’d bought a car she couldn’t really afford because she believed someone in “her position should have the right kind of car.” Despite the fact that she couldn’t afford the payments, she was reluctant to return the car to the dealership–until I took her outside and showed her my 10-year old, beat up, unairconditioned, sun-bleached Jeep Cherokee.

“That’s your car?” she asked.

“Yep, do you think any less of me now that you know that?” I replied.

“No,” she said softly.

“Good, then give yourself permission to get a car you can afford and know we respect you for who you are, not what you own.

Authentic Pride vs Counterfeit Pride

All persons have an inherent dignity and infinite value, not because of our looks, wealth, power, accomplishments, or rank, but because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The United States’ Declaration of Independence includes this truth in it’s text. The idea of “all Men are created equal” is likewise central to our system of laws, military and civil. It’s in the sense of fair play required of us in business ethics. We all accept this truth when we’re playing sports or administering the law–the idea that each person has equal standing and that the “rules” should apply to everyone equally. It’s why we get offended when we learn of an athlete using performance enhancing drugs or cheating in some way; it offends our sense of “justice” and attacks the idea that “all Men are created equal.”

Therefore, it follows that just like the woman who measured her own worth in possessions and appearances, there is a difference between Authentic Pride and Counterfeit Pride. Authentic Pride builds up, Counterfeit Pride tears down. Authentic Pride is in achievement or accomplishment after hard work and sacrifice. Counterfeit Pride takes credit for others’ work. Authentic Pride is about who a person is on the inside, Counterfeit Pride is only interested in externals and appearance.

Leaders Cultivate Authentic Pride

High performing teams become that way over the long term because they become mutually supporting and proud of who they are as persons not the accomplishments of others. Many a sports team has become a bit too enamored with their legacy and forgotten to actually do the work necessary to earn it anew for themselves. When leaders cultivate a sense of authentic pride and lead people in doing the work, they cultivate high performance and grow leaders. When people are invested in building up others, they also build up themselves.

Being authentically free also means being able to choose what’s good for ourselves, without being held back by our passions and appetites. Clearly, if I’m giving up sleep to play video games and drink energy drinks all night, I’m no longer free. Substance abuse, inability to manage finances, porn, overeating, etc., all rob us of freedom in some way. We cannot be truly free until we’re able to freely choose what’s good for ourselves, and reject what harms ourselves and others.

Leaders Set The Tone

Just like the woman who looked to me for leadership on how to value her and her work, our people will count on us in some measure to inform their self worth. Remember, leaders are in the people business, and it’s often up to leaders to be sure people understand how valuable they truly are to the team because of who they are.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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