Core Self Evaluation

Anyone who peruses any text on leadership development, or attends a seminar on the same topic, will almost certainly come across themes such as “communication,” “developing trust,” “inspiring others,” and a litany of other relationship-themed competencies.

Many empirical research studies as well as anecdotal accounts have made clear a link between these relationship-based leadership behaviors and resultant beneficial outcomes, including enhanced employee morale, productivity, and retention. While most successful leaders have some understanding of the importance of these behaviors, some leaders down-play them as just an HR admonition to “be nice for the sake of being nice” or “create a softer, gentler culture.”

One reason people may fail to value these relationship-focused behaviors is that there is no generally understood and compelling argument for exactly why or how these behaviors can create desirable business results. Good science requires a grounded theory, something beyond simple wishful thinking that “niceness” itself leads to profitable business outcomes. Even those leaders who believe there is such a relationship should understand the actual mechanics, lest they be labeled as Pollyannas. Our colleague Dr. Chris Leupold, who is an accomplished organization consultant and executive coach as well as a Professor and Faculty Leadership Fellow in Elon University’s psychology department, has increasingly been interested in better understanding how exactly interpersonal behaviors correlate to results in organizations.

In attempting to explicate a connection between relationship-oriented behaviors and superior results, Chris explains, one concept that has been receiving a growing amount of attention in organizational science literature is Core Self Evaluation (CSE). First coined roughly 20 years ago, CSE was conceptualized in an attempt to capture the elements of four of the most widely studied “self” variables in psychology:
- self esteem: one’s general sense of self worth
- self efficacy: one’s general sense that she can succeed at a given task
- internal locus of control: one’s belief that he has control over his environment
- emotional stability: one’s ability to effectively regulate her emotions

What should leap out from these brief definitions are common themes related to confidence, resilience, and emotional intelligence. In short, CSE can be thought of as how an individual essentially views himself, his capabilities, and his potential. These characteristics have been linked scientifically to job satisfaction, performance, retention, and an array of other key outcome variables. In fact, one recent study found that CSE was a better predictor of intention to leave than was the level of work stress or job satisfaction!

Most leaders can probably confirm these relationships based on their own experiences: those employees who appear to have a higher sense of self-reliance, confidence, and fortitude are typically more willing to take risks, overcome obstacles, persevere, and drive results than are others. The beauty of CSE is that it captures the elements underlying these other variables in a very direct manner; instead of requiring multiple surveys resulting in dozens of questions that assess it indirectly, CSE can be ascertained in fewer than ten.

So, the question leaders should be asking is, “CSE sounds great! How can I get my employees’ levels of CSE higher in order to reap these benefits?” The answer should be fairly obvious, as it is the same types of behaviors we exhibit to anyone whose confidence we are trying to build. These include providing meaningful and accurate feedback; taking the time to point out strengths and coach around weaknesses; providing stretch assignments to increase competence; demonstrating a genuine desire to see others succeed; supporting others development; and highlighting and publicly praising others’ accomplishments. An employee’s relationship with his or her leader is usually the single most critical variable in an employee’s overall satisfaction and organizational contribution: remember that “people join companies, but they leave bosses.”

Whether they realize it or not, employees are often looking for their leaders to enhance their CSE. To the extent that leaders cultivate relationships based on coaching, open dialogue, and caring behaviors, the better the likelihood that they will raise their employees’ CSE and in turn reap not only the benefits described above but also the satisfaction that they are facilitating people’s professional and personal growth and success.

We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on CSE: send us a reply at:

“When you’re confused about how you’re doing as a leader, find out how the people you lead are doing. Then you will know the answer.” --Larry Bossidy