Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shame - The Virus No Organization Wants

(Photo: John Hain/Pixabay)
"Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection." - Brene Brown
If there is one phrase that sets me off, it is "Shame on you." A family member uses it often and without much merit (in my humble opinion).  Maybe we don't agree on an issue, but being labeled as shameful hurts.

Google defines shame as "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior." Shame is not something to be taken lightly and thrown around unwittingly. Like a virus, shame can infiltrate an organization and leave long-lasting effects.

So what does shame look like in an organization? Brené Brown shares her thoughts in Daring Greatly - How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Behavior cues include:
  • Blaming
  • Gossiping
  • Favortism
  • Name-calling
  • Harrassment
  • Shame becomes a management tool
So, why worry about shame? Brown contends that, "Shame breeds fear. It crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity, and trust."

From my perspective, I would say there is a great deal of shame in the wildland fire service right now. The talk of harrassment (and I am not condoning harrassment here) has led to blaming, gossiping, and name calling. We have taken sides and shown our loyalty to protect our favorites. How long will we cling to our egos and struggle to break down the walls that come between us. When shame infiltrates an organization, we all lose.
"Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we're disengaged, we don't show up, we don't contribute, and we stop caring."
So how do we rid our organizations of shame? Brown suggests the following: 
  1. Facilitate honest conversations about shame and cultivate shame-resilient cultures.
  2. Make a conscientious effort to see where shame might be functioning in the organization and creeping into our relationships. 
  3. Let people know what to expect, what the common struggles are, how other people have dealth with the struggles, and what your experiences have been.
  4. Train all employees on the differences between shame and guilt, and teaching them how to give and receive feedback in a way that fosters growth and engagement.
Bookpal does a great job in capturing the heart of chapter 6 "Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work."

Widlland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Read Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly - How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
  • Watch Brené Brown's Ted Talk Listening to Shame.
  • Download a copy of the 2017 Wildland Fire Leadership National Campaign - Leading Authentically Reference Guide and facilitate a session on vulnerability with your team.

About the Author: Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

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