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Seven Reasons Why Every Leader Needs to Understand Shame

Seven Reasons Why Every Leader Needs to Understand Shame

Nobody would like to discuss shame. Doesn’t shame be something addicts have to talk about? Counselors? It’s great for them. However, we all deal with people who are more functional and do not have shame…right?

Brene Brown, a research professor of vulnerability and shame from the University of Houston, disagrees. She believes that shame is something that everyone experiences. It’s all-encompassing. It has even taken on epidemic proportions. Brown is frequently tapped for help by Fortune 500 companies to enhance productivity and encourage innovation.

Personally, I have never planned to research shame. The subject wasn’t even an issue that was on my radar. The subject came to my attention 15 years ago when I made an offer to be the spirituality counselor at an addiction treatment center in the area. I didn’t know how I would tackle the subject of spirituality in an unorthodox facility. After listening closely to clients for several weeks, I listened to them say they struggled with feeling inadequate and ashamed. Therefore, I read all I could find about shame. I then talked with clients on ways that being in relationship to God could help them discover the value of their performance. This class is currently listed as one of the top sessions in the clinic.

However, I realized that this new understanding of the lives of people was not just reserved for addicts as Brown stated that it’s a universal issue. It is a problem that affects every person. My knowledge of shame has been a huge asset when working with family and friends, as well as my team and the congregation that I lead.

When people are thinking of topics for leadership, they are thinking of speaking skills, vision casting, and team-building. I’m with you. However, I’ve added to the list the concept of shame. It is, in my opinion, an area that is misunderstood, unappreciated and neglected issues in the field of leadership. I’m determined to change that.

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These are the seven main reasons I believe that every leader should know how to handle shame.

1. Shame is a universal issue.

Everyone is affected by it. Shame is the feeling that you get when you feel that you’re not achieving your expectations. The shame causes you to take an unintentional leap of logic. Instead of telling yourself, “I fell short. I’ll try harder next time,” shame tells lies to you and declares, “Because you fell short, you’re not worth it. You’re not a part of the group. You could as well quit.” Being aware of this about people can make you a step ahead of your competition in the leadership arena. If you don’t acknowledge shame, you’ll deal with those with one hand tied behind your back as you’ll miss the signals they send out. If you can see their shame and respond to it, you’ll be able to connect with them on an even deeper level.

2. Shame is the reason we behave in a certain way.

If you don’t grasp the concept of shame, it will be difficult to comprehend why people act the way they do. A lot of emotional energy is poured into resolving shame. Many people are able to distract themselves from shame. Some are overachievers who want to prove themselves worthy, while others are constantly seeking ways to degrade themselves. If you can understand the concept of shame, you’ll be able to better understand the people you supervise and may be able to steer them away from destructive and destructive behaviors.

3. Shame hinders constructive feedback.

People who are ashamed may not show it all the time. However, they find it difficult to take any form of criticism because they feel unworthy. Criticism is like salt to their wounds. If you’re not aware of this, you could be using an incorrect method of correcting individuals. Certain leaders adopt an approach to management that is blatantly obvious. They aren’t afraid to call people in front of their others in order to “motivate” them. Then they become annoyed when they are confronted with pushback. Most of the time, this strategy is a disaster. Just changing your tone, words, and manner of speaking can transform an unpleasant situation into one that yields transformational outcomes.

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4. Shame impedes innovation and creativity.

When she gave her 2012. TED Talk Brene Brown noted that she’s increasingly invited to speak about innovations within the workplace. What does that have something to do with her knowledge in the field of shame? Everything. She explains how shame keeps us from taking on the risk of presenting new and creative ideas. The tried and tested concepts are secure. Nobody will question the ideas that work. People who are ashamed stick to the ideas they believe will be able to get approval. But innovative, imaginative ideas face criticism. Consider an examination. If businesses, churches, and other organizations are looking to innovate, they need to create a space where individuals feel comfortable offering their outside-the-box ideas.

5. Shame can hinder humility.

Jim Collins talks about a Level Five leader as someone who is awed by his team whenever things are going smoothly and is accountable for any issues that arise. He says this is an example of humility. People who are ashamed cannot perform this. They should take praise when things go their way because they want the same kind of praise. They can’t be held accountable for their mistakes, as the weight of it would weigh them down. They only show their insufficiency. Sometimes, shame disguises itself as humility, but it’s not.

6. Shame blocks forgiveness.

If you are looking to build a culture of forgiveness as well as teamwork, you must be aware of the concept of shame. It is a gracious act. Shame cannot allow itself to become generous. Shame tracks the injustices that have been done and then retaliates with apologies or suffers silently… but none of which your team would let get worse. Shame doesn’t let go. It is always a thought, “You owe me,” and it isn’t always satisfied.

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7. In the end, shame is the primary motivator for many leaders.

I’ve seen that many individuals take on leadership positions or assist professions in showing their worth to others and themselves. They might be skilled in these areas, but the main reason behind their decision is the desire to be valued. However, they cannot give the things they don’t have. Leaders are only able to take their followers to the extent they’ve been themselves. If they’re driven to lead in order to demonstrate their worthiness to others or themselves, regardless of the number of accomplishments they accomplish (and the majority of them do succeed), it’s just a hollow triumph. They’re never satisfied. Their worth lies at the summit of the next hill and the next market launch, the next campaign, or speech. Every leader has to be aware of their own motivations and ask themselves what’s driving them. To be a truly effective leader, they must eliminate the shame they carry, and their focus is on the leadership of others and not seeking approval from their own self-esteem.

Understanding shame isn’t a requirement for a Ph.D. in psychology, just a few fundamental insights into the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that plague people and the ways they attempt to overcome them.

As a leader, you are responsible to your team and those you manage to be aware of shame. It’s not as sexually arousing of a subject as casting or the development of strategy, but the return you get from investing time in understanding shame will be more than enough to make up for the cost.


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