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Three Ways Leaders Can Combat Shame

Shame. We all have it. It’s a human reality. No one escapes it, we just have different variables to our shame stories.

That means leaders carry shame, too.

Leaders frequently feel pressure to make the right decision. All the time. In all aspects of our lives.

When we don’t do what we should, shame arrives to set up shop and sell its wares of guilt, fear, and increased attempts at perfectionism.

Shame is horrible enough in a personal setting; it is often magnified when it exists in a leadership setting.

Shame prompts a very normal response to want to hide and cover up the “bad stuff.“ When anyone, including a leader, succumbs to this very normal result of shame, one can only expect bad outcomes.

Hiding never produces good outcomes.

A leader who does not face shame with courage and intentionality will always be a shadow of their potential self.

Here are three ways to combat shame in personal and leadership realms:

  • Open Self- Recognize that everyone (including you) is very protective of their “open self” - this is what we want others to see. No one wants to admit or display faults. If you seek to know your open self you will also know when you perform actions that aren’t included in that persona. Knowing is half the battle.

  • Blind spots - We all have them. Crave feedback to learn about and understand your personal blind spots. Ways to receive this feedback include (but are not limited to) being open to a 360 degree analysis by supervisors and colleagues, finding a mentor who is willing to share their honest (yet kind) observations, or sending an anonymous survey on a quarterly basis to compare perceptions. The more practiced you become at asking for and responding to feedback the need to hide due to shame lessens.

  • Run to the Light - The only way shame can be overcome is if we let everything see the light. Everything. One of the hardest things to do is to be open to admitting that I struggle with certain areas, need improvement, or that I’m wrong. Light by definition cannot exist simultaneously with darkness and hiding. Shame cannot exist in light - only reality and truth can. Once reality and truth are known next steps can occur that will allow you to work on those things that cause you shame. It may be painful, yes, and that pain is quite short compared to the anguish of trying to hide and cover a growing mountain of unchecked shame.

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