Leaders Must Build Individual and Group Self-Esteem

By Vice Admiral A. H. Konetzni, Jr. U.S. Navy (Retired)

•    Looking people in the eye.

•    Never giving up on anybody.

•    Always accepting an outstretched hand.

•    Avoiding sarcastic remarks.

•    Never depriving someone of hope.

•    Being the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.

•    Not burning bridges. (I’m always surprised how many times one has to cross the same river.)

•    Acting bold and courageous. (When you look back on life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you    did.)

•    Remembering that no one makes it alone; have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who helped you.

•    Taking charge of your attitude; don’t let someone else choose it for you

The bottom line is that self-esteem is critical to individual growth and team esprit de corps. It enhances our ability to take on difficult tasks and challenges, and it allows us to see the world clearly.

It is important for leaders to build self-esteem in every situation. Leaders must recognize that even a failing individual has value and a dream. It is the boss’s role to help make a transition work for the person who has not succeeded in his or her present job. All too often, leaders polarize behavioral or performance issues, and the long-term future success of the individual is ignored. This kind of leadership hurts self-esteem for the group and ignores the fact that the individual has value even though he or she has failed to meet the Navy’s standards.

When I think about how leaders either can build or hurt self-esteem, I am reminded of when two different secretaries of the Navy visited the submarine squadron I commanded at Kings Bay, Georgia, within a period of about three months. Much effort went into planning these visits; they were all-hands tasks. The first secretary acted rather distant during his visit and only spoke to a sailor or junior officer to correct his or her service medals. The effect on morale and institutional self-esteem was devastating. This group of men and women were responsible for maintaining and deploying 13 rather aged ballistic missile submarines, but the secretary chose to critique them about minor details and ignored their overall mission of readiness and service to the fleet.  Furthermore, he failed to understand the value and challenges of getting a different ballistic missile submarine to sea every ten days. 

Sometime later, the new Secretary of the Navy visited the squadron.  Preparations for this visit were even more arduous as a result of the earlier visit experience. But when he arrived, it was clear the new secretary understood the importance of empathizing with people. He showed respect for every sailor, regardless of rank. He had a firm handshake, was enthusiastic, and he looked people in the eye. He remembered that no one makes it alone and was quick to acknowledge those who made his Navy function well. This man contributed significantly to my team’s self-esteem. The crews of the submarine tender, dry dock, and submarines spoke often about his visit and its impact on their professional lives. The visit provided real meaning to individuals wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves. He showed that leaders can have a large and positive impact on individual and team self-esteem, which absolutely are necessary for success.

Vice Admiral Konetzni , known as “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal,” served as the deputy and chief of staff to the Commander, Fleet Forces Command, before retiring from the Navy in 2004. Prior to Fleet Forces, he was the Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. In 2016, he retired as vice president and general manager of Oceaneering International Inc.’s Advanced Technologies Marine Services Division. 

Editor’s Note :  This is Part 6 of a ten-part series on behaviors that Vice Admiral Konetzni learned during his years of service. They apply to individuals and define superb organizations.  (Part 1:   Self-Image ; Part 2:   Self-Motivation ; Part 3:   Self-Projection ; Part 4:   Self-Control ; Part 5:   Self-Discipline .) Admiral Konetzni believes these ten behaviors can give people energy to thrive and overcome obstacles.

Photo caption : On board the USS  George Washington  (CVN-73), a command selfie with the CO, XO, CMC and 275 newly frocked petty officers in the hangar bay. U.S. Navy photo. 



Conferences and Events

2018 U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting

Wed, 2018-05-02

2018 U.S. Naval Institute Annual MeetingWednesday, 2 May 20184:00 - 5:45 p.m.Washington, DC The 145th Annual Meeting of the...

View All

From the Press

26 April - Presentation

Thu, 2018-04-26

28 April - Festival

Sat, 2018-04-28

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership