Over half of the executives I work with deal with shame. Shame activates a whole host of feelings that include embarrassment, humiliation, inadequacy, and worry about not being correct, effective or good enough.
Jake, (not his real name) is a leader who grew up with a learning disability. School was difficult, and he was segregated from his school mates; placed in a classroom for the “disadvantaged.” He felt embarrassed and never good enough. He expressed his feelings about himself by being critical of others, outworking them, and working long hours to succeed. He would never ask for help because he felt others would see him as being incompetent; the very feelings he felt about himself at school.
Heather, (not her real name) is a senior executive who had a very difficult time connecting and developing relationships with her project team which was contributing to her team’s failure. It was hard for her to develop close, trusting relationships with others because she was sexually abused as a youngster.
Shame hides itself deep in our minds. We work very hard to keep shame from surfacing, so others will not find out the truth about us. We do it to protect ourselves from feeling our own shame. This act of turning away temporarily protects us, but only reinforces the very shame we are attempting to diminish.
To effectively address our shame, we need to be honest with ourselves and find someone we trust to share our story with. We all have a story. It is by sharing our story we can then start to become aware of our feelings of shame and how they manifest themselves in our role as a leader, friend and parent.
Sharing our story requires us to be vulnerable with another human being and it is that interaction that can help free oneself from the darkness of shame. Shame does everything it can to block our joy, light, curiosity, connection and even loving ourselves and others.
Both leaders referenced earlier were able to begin to successfully manage their shame by expressing their story to me as their leadership coach and doing deep reflective awareness work that helped them to see how their old behavior was negatively impacting their ability to work with others and to lead effectively.
What’s you story? Expressing it to someone you trust will help you see how shame is impacting how you live and lead your life.