Understanding and working with Shame

Download image from Brene Brown.comI want to start with saying that the purpose of the team I’m part of is to help develop leadership capability in order to create a Devon where people can live their life well, however for me this has presented some personal challenges.

Some of the challenges for me have been around my own capacity and capability to learn and grow.  Without understanding this I would not be able to support leaders to learn and grow effectively.

This is why alongside learning more about how to achieve purpose within my role, I’ve had to consciously develop and understand myself. This has led me to understand a number of things which have been quite painful but incredibly liberating and transformative.

One of the areas that has been the most transformative for me is understanding and learning about shame.

Yes shame…that feeling you are not enough.

Lets just hold the space here for a minute. I’m conscious that even talking about it can trigger it in other people…so I understand if you need to park this and come back later.

When I talk about shame in this post, I am referring to the understanding shared by Dr Brené Brown (twitter)

I want to acknowledge straight away that I am incredibly privileged to be working within and alongside a team who allow me to show up and be vulnerable every day. So a big Thank you to Roxanne, Sara, Kelly, Louise, Kevin, Martin and Lewis. Without their support I would not be able to even write this post.

I wrestled internally about whether to write this post or not but I feel so passionately about this that I want to share my experience, it is likely to be through a number of posts as I am finding the process of writing about this somewhat healing and therefore I will find value in writing more than one post. I also hope that others may be curious to learn more or want to share their experiences too – I’ve learnt that shining some light on this stuff helps. I hope that people feel able to share this post wider.

In my learning about shame, what hit me the hardest was when I started to look back on my reflections and learning in this blog and what I started to see through a different level of understanding was that shame was and is pretty much in every single post I wrote and the underlying shame trigger behind my posts was “I’m not good enough”, there is a number of variations of this, I’m not tough enough, I don’t fit in, I don’t belong etc.

What I know is that along with reflecting on myself, I started to think about all the people I connected with over the years, all the people I’ve worked with over the last 20 years or so in Local Government/Central Government.  I now understand that many, many, so many people were struggling with and dealing with shame – it is sad and hard to say, but it is endemic.

Some of the areas I started to think about and reflect initially on were around some of the connections with people from outside my organisation.

I’ve learnt that all of my behaviours when involved in Local Gov Digital were driven from and in response to dealing with shame and that created unintended consequences for myself and others around me, such as controlling situation and not letting go, to mentally running away and not engaging and some variations in between.
In some way the network itself was a shame club, a group of people who didn’t feel good enough, in particular around not being valued or good enough within their own organisation. The group has achieved some very positive things but in what we never did was address the reasons why we came together in the first place – “shame”.
The very first meeting had been full of stories of shame and yet we didn’t know how to connect to it or even understand it…I’m looking back at those times with compassion and I know that my actions were not always from a place of integrity and If i ever caused people shame then I apologise as I did not possess the critical awareness to have made different choices.

I also realised that the tension I felt between internal and external was caused by shame. I know that when looking back, the biggest shame I suffered came as a direct result of winning the Guardian Leadership Award and subsequently the accolades in the LGC 100…at the time I was humbled and proud but those feelings were somehow empty and un-fulfilling, on reflection it had triggered a significant shame trigger and shame spiral which I’ve only recently managed to resolve.  The tension I felt was a shame of never been good enough as an internal employee as opposed to the perceived success of validation I received when engaging with other organisations.  I spent so much time and effort trying to prove myself that I often forgot about who I actually was.  I am now asking why is it that cultures do this, why is it that we use shame as a tactic on other people?

This lead me to think about and reflect on the cultures of organisations and why starting a conversation about shame can act as a catalyst for cultural and societal change. So I hope this short post and subsequent posts can or in some way might help.

I know that this is incredibly hard work and that it takes discipline and practice to help understand, work through and develop resilience techniques, but I also know and am learning that it is healing me and helping me grow so that I am capable to continually learn.

I’m only at the beginning of my journey into understanding and being open about understanding and working with shame.

What I know most of all now is;

As I am today, I’m enough

and that, that very simply fact, makes me happy

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are curious to know and understand more about shame then i would highly recommend watching the following Ted talks

 

 

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The transition from old to new

Growing by Marissa Elkind – Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/YmkGcE

A fable about letting go:

Two travelling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her,  so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!

 “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Unknown Author 

When I was a line manager I used to take a fair amount of comfort from knowing that there were documented processes for everything, which essentially helped keep me safe, my colleagues and my staff safe (that was my assumption).

In having processes for everything, what that meant for me as a manager was that in a strange way, I didn’t have to think about anything – I simply followed the process and trusted that it got me to the right outcome (again that was my assumption).

Perhaps obvious to many people but this essentially means that rulebooks, processes and procedures tell people what to do, insist on discipline and compliance if you expect to be rewarded or stay out of trouble.  It is pretty much the lifeblood of command and control organisations. However, this has an unintended consequence that any form of creativity is pretty much designed out of the flow of work.

I used to think I was being creative and could be creative but I now know that I wasn’t.  Everything I did was wrapped within the parameters of the rules and processes which surrounded me (visibly and invisibly).  So on a personal level, I was only tinkering around the edges which over time end up becoming part of the problem.

Many of the conversations I now have,  make this increasingly visible to me and I can now start seeing the restrictions or parameters played out in what people say and how they act.  It has taken some time (a huge amount of unlearning and practice) to see this and learn how to tune out the noise and pay attention to the things that make them visible.

Most people state that they believe they have incredible freedom to act and they feel empowered to change any aspect of the work they do.  But what plays out on a practical level is actually the opposite.

I used to think I had a huge freedom to act, but I now know that I didn’t and was blind to so much stuff that stopped me creating lasting and sustainable change.

It is true that people can change some processes and some policies so that some improvement can become visible, but inevitably that change is single loop thinking – see my previous post talks about the single loop and double loop learning.

When you help make these things visible, the challenge is to understand why these things happen, what the consequences of these things are on the work and on the people who interact with services.

In simple terms, once you have done this, you can change those things based on knowledge and understanding.  Now, this is where I’ve started to find things incredibly interesting…the transition between old ways of working and new ways of working”.

In this “transition” space – you really learn about letting go and what letting go actually means and that it isn’t straightforward and easy.

Essentially the journey involves an emergent process of learning, where you have to unlearn and let go of all the things that currently get in the way of doing good things and then learn from a base of principle how to think differently, behave differently and act differently.

Underpinning this transition is ideally a shift from model 1 behaviours to model 2 behaviours (Argyris and Schon).

On a personal level this transition is still very much underway and as a team, we are discovering and learning what principles make sense for us and help us achieve our purpose (To help leaders see, think and behave differently).

So when it comes to letting go of old behaviours, habits, thinking, all the things that provide comfort and allowing yourself to become vulnerable and exposed, it is a no wonder that this is a much harder journey than some would acknowledge.

However and this is one of the biggest realisations I have – In my experience so far, moving to a principled way of thinking, behaving and doing is something that truly does liberate oneself.    It does allow oneself to legitimately move away from the constraints of how we currently work and importantly the constraints I placed upon myself that stopped me from starting this journey of learning and growing.

I used to think I was continually learning and growing, but I now know that I wasn’t. What I used to do was build faulty feedback loops that reinforced my current thinking and created further barriers to exposing my true vulnerabilities, restricting my ability to grow.

A final reflection is that through all of this it has reinforced one thing – I am truly privileged to be in a leadership position and how I think, behave and act has profound implications on others. I have a responsibility to understand those things so that I can ensure I create and add value.

 

Love or Fear – which one rules you?

I was asked a question recently about the challenges around organisational change and barriers that “some” managers seem to put in the way.

My response I think took a few people by surprise as I simply suggested that those people who appear to be providing blocks or barriers are simply acting from a different place. They are operating from Fear.

I’ve over simplified this but essentially there are only two ways in which you can live your life, and from there make decisions about the things that affect you and those things around you.

Those two things are Love and Fear (Over simplified but I like the over simplification)

Personally I’m scared of many things, some rational and some irrational and because of that my thinking around those things gets clouded by the feelings of fear which take complete control like an auto-pilot – in those moments I’m not likely to make good decisions, even though those decisions might help me feel better about that fear, or manage it away from me…but all too often those decisions restrict my personal growth or the growth of those around me.

I also love many things and from that place, I’m able to let go, be vulnerable, trust in myself and others and allow decisions to be made more freely and those decisions have wider benefits as they are not about me but are made in a wider context.

Which rules you?

I’ve also thought a lot about how people learn to move away from Fear and I used to think you could simply inspire them, nudge them, provoke them and even shock them into a different place…but the I was reminded on this quote…

galileo

 

All we can do is to support people, create conditions and spaces for them to learn and discover love within themselves.

How are you helping others?

 

That elephant is ******* big now I can see the whole thing

Warning: This is a reflective post…i’ve had some time off and did some digging around my inner self 🙂

“There is a moment when you take a step or two backwards and start to see the bigger picture, the full picture, the elephant so to speak and then you wait, your eyes refocus, your body adjusts and there in front of you is the biggest thing you’ve ever seen…it is a massive elephant…holy shit…how on earth did I not notice this given it’s size, presence and impact.”

I’ve worked in a local council now for 20 years (half of my life) and I’d like to think I’ve managed to avoid being completely institutionalised.

But it isn’t until you start a process of transforming yourself that you realise that some of the cultures/behaviours/traditions that you work hard to remove have found there way into your own life.

In that very moment I felt vulnerable, without purpose and most of all I started questioning everything I did and do.

I’ve blogged about these types of things on here before, not in as much detail as i’m now realising sits within me, but my reflective posts and my journey of coaching for example are starting points for me to build on.

It has all got me to a point in my life where I now need to truly transform who I am and prepare myself for my emerging future. It simply isn’t good enough for me to expect others to do this without pushing myself through the change also.

I read quite a bit of organisational type stuff more than I read fiction if i’m honest, I’m always keen to learn and push myself and I really enjoy reading peoples blog posts of their individual and organisational journeys. I always thought that my journey wouldn’t be as profound as it is starting to be though.

Growing up in a local council these are the things that struck me…

I learned to live with frustration.

I learned to live with pressure and stress.

I learned to live in a world that is disconnected.

I learned that failure is to be avoided.

I learned that authority is to be trusted.

I now need to unlearn all of this as it has held me back and is unhealthy

I’m learning to live with opportunity and creativity

I’m learning to live in harmony and find my personal wellbeing.

I’m learning that the world is and has always been connected and I’m connected to it at all levels.

I’m learning that failure is a process of learning.

I’m learning that everyone is to be trusted.

Most of all…

I’m learning to open my mind.

I’m learning to open my heart.

I’m learning to open my will.

I’m learning to see that the elephant has been created by everyone to protect themselves from fear.

All of the above may seem a bit random for some people and that is OK.

Everyone is on their own journey and everyone experiences different things in different ways. We need to celebrate and acknowledge that difference more…we focus too much on creating artificial barriers and boundaries which hinder us all from simply being human.

 

 

Reflections on my second coaching / mentoring session

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my first coaching/mentoring session with Phil Norrey (my Chief Executive) and it has had such a positive impact on my thinking, approach and behaviours already.

This week I had my first session with Mike Bracken (Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office) who kindly agreed to support me and help me over the coming months.

First and foremost I want to thank Mike for agreeing to do this and for taking time out to speak to me and help me professionally and personally it means a great deal and I believe it will provide the necessary challenge and encouragement along with my sessions with Phil to help me develop as a practitioner and a leader.

Like before the detail of the conversation will stay private but I will use this space to reflect on themes and specific challenges to help me work through them.

One of the interesting things in speaking to Mike was reflecting and talking about the work we are doing here in Devon (not just me, but the wider transformation that is also being driven hard by Sara Cretney and many others) and it isn’t until you try to capture everything that you realise how much is happening and how much things have significantly changed.

It was refreshing to get Mikes perspective and observations on the challenges we have faced and what we want to do moving forward and also reassuring that the direction of travel is a good one.

One thing I will share is the ‘killer question’ moment, I find that evercoaching / mentoring session has that killer question which makes you stop and really think, I mean really think what is the answer here. In this instance it was such a simple question and I felt disappointed in myself for not being able to answer or provide what I thought would have been an adequate response. The question was ‘What can you point at that tells me what you think?’  For me, I’ve never really thought about my blog in those terms, although more recently I did want to start writing with purpose and clarify my thinking, I’ve historically just thrown random ideas into this blog and whilst I have found that helped me there isn’t the final picture of what my thinking is for others to easily pull apart and access…

I’ve got a range of themes to reflect and ponder from the initial conversation and it isn’t until you start to reflect on different aspects of the conversation you realise how much you get from this process. The key themes for me from this conversation are:

  • Focusing on Local
  • Sharing your thoughts does not mean people know what you think
  • What people perceive you do is different to what you think you do yourself
  • Using the ‘language of old’ to change the future
  • Grassroots movements VS formal structures
  • We all have to let go of something to allow the future we want to see come to fruition
  • My story and my councils story are two different things and should remain that way, but I’m part of my councils story

An additional theme and more urgent action which I need to resolve as well is what role if any am I going to play in any of the change locally and or further afield…This wasn’t explicitly touched on in the conversation but in starting to reflect on the other areas plus the conversation I had with Phil, it is becoming an important question for me to answer.

I have already created some actions for myself from speaking to Mike and feel very positive about the experience and process and I am already looking forward to the next session.