Courage: Practice Shame ResiliencePosted on January 26, 2020



Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Over the past three weeks, this blog has been exploring the types of emotional armor we wear in leadership to protect ourselves.  The big kahuna that most armor is donned for is shame.  Shame is an intense feeling derived from the belief that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy.  Nothing threatens our ego like the potential of feeling shame, or the “never good enough” emotion.  And even though we all experience it (unless you are a sociopath, Ha!), most leaders are afraid to talk about it.  The more we avoid owning and talking about shame, the more control it has over our lives and our leadership behavior. 

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Since avoiding this primitive emotion is virtually impossible, effective leaders should practice shame resilience.  Shame resilience is the ability to (1) be authentic when we experience shame, (2) move through that experience without sacrificing our values, and (3) end the experience with more courage and connection to others than when we started.   In other words, increasing our awareness and practicing empathy are the only real antidotes to shame.   

How can you do it? 

Recognize shame and understand its triggers. Shame is often hidden in the framework of an organization.  The behavioral cues of shame show up at work in various forms: perfectionism, gossip, blaming, teasing, comparison, and back-channeling.   When shame is at work in a culture, you may see team members (or yourself) (1) “moving away” or withdrawing, self-silencing, (2) “moving toward” or seeking to appease and please, (3) “moving against” or trying to gain power over others.   These are all self-protection or armored behaviors.  Be aware of these symptoms and challenge yourself to remember that you are not alone and push to see the whole picture of what is happening.

Practice self-compassion. When you sense a “shame trigger,” go easy on yourself.  When you model self-compassion, it shows those you lead that you are quick to forgive and slow to blame.  This shame resilience practice will model a healthy way to manage this emotion and encourage the thickening of our skin.

Give those you serve a way out with dignity. This is a practice that not only works when shame is at play in a situation, but it is a guiding principle I aim for whenever possible.  As described above, shame in the workplace does not bring out the best in any of us.  When there is misbehavior, rather than dishing out more “shame,” I try to remember the human behind the behavior.  If there is a way to allow the team member to get out of a tough situation with dignity (a corrective conversation, termination, etc.), my goal is to try that first.  I am not always perfect with this shame resilience technique, but when I can facilitate this, the outcome is almost always a win-win for all involved.

What other “shame resilience” techniques have you used with success in your leadership experience? Log on and join the conversation at  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

1 Response

Teresa January 27th, 2020

I think not being perfect and comparing yourself to others to assure you, “match up”, can be good and bad. The desire to improve is always positive, self shaming and being so embarrassed that you forget the strengths you have can be very negative. We tend to see others strengths and our own weaknesses. Remembering that is important. For your team, one thing I try to tell new team members is, “you are probably not going to do anything (mess up, forget to call someone) that I or one of the team members hasn’t done before you.” and , “you will never make that mistake again”. Reminding team members of their own strengths and their value, while holding them accountable is the sweet spot we all desire.

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