Leading Shamelessly

Most successful individuals exhibit one major flaw: they attach their self-worth to the things and ideas they produce. If this sounds familiar, you are far from alone. We live in a society that tells us from a very early age that we are what we create. As children we are graded based on our performance on exams, and as adults we attach our self-worth to titles, promotions, and career achievements.

You may be thinking “sure, but that’s only a problem if I fail. As long as I’m successful, I can avoid feeling shame.” But the reality is that if you give in to this toxic mindset, you have already lost control and made yourself a slave to what others think. Moreover, you will always lack the resiliency that is needed to be truly effective as a leader.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown explains that “when our self-worth isn’t on the line, we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talent and gifts…A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere.”

Shame can be countered with resilience. Note that this word does not mean the same thing as resistance. It is impossible to resist shame, because it is a natural and inevitable part of human psychology. People who have developed a resilience to shame are able to practice the following skills:

  1. They learn to recognize shame. They do this by identifying its triggers and becoming practiced at distinguishing it from other emotions, like guilt and embarrassment.
  2. They are able to break down and analyze their shame. What messages or expectations are responsible for these feelings? Are they realistic expectations, or self-defeating? Do they deserve your time and attention, or are they simply holding you back?
  3. They find an outlet. Those who are shame-resilient find trusted friends and confidantes to speak to when shame and fear become overwhelming. Counselors, coaches, and peer mentors all offer safe spaces to speak openly.
  4. They connect with others. Instead of responding to shame by withdrawing, those who are shame-resilient seek out opportunities to share and connect. They also know when to ask for assistance, patience, or guidance from others.

In practicing these skills, you will also develop empathy and emotional intelligence, both crucial leadership skills. A shame-resilient leader is one whose door is open to her employees and peers, and who develops trust within her organization by creating an atmosphere of authenticity. In contrast, a leader prone to shame shuts others out and hides behind a façade. Others sense this, and will be less apt to trust you with their own emotional vulnerabilities.

Interested in exploring how you can overcome shame and become a more effective leader? You can reach me via my websiteLinkedIn and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.

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