Learning, leadership, being vulnerable and developing shame resilience

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.  The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arm’s reach.  They weren’t in the bleachers at all.  They were with me in the arena.  Fighting for me and with me.  This realization changed everything.
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Building on my last post about understanding, living and working with shame, I thought it might be helpful to share some more of my personal story.

I’d never actively thought about shame before If I’m honest, it was for a long time a word I’d rather not mention or associate myself with but I was acutely aware that I experienced it often and those feelings and emotions directly affected my actions and responses.

It wasn’t until, supported through work, that I started an intensive learning journey and as a result of that my curiosity directed me to Dr Brene Brown.Through her work (books, audio, video etc) I found a way to build an understanding. An understanding that allowed me to create a new awareness of what was happening to me in my life and my work.

The first and most important part of my understanding was to get clarity on the difference between shame and guilt. In its most simple terms how I now understand the difference is that shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. For example If i hurt your feelings, guilt would make me feel that my behaviour was wrong whereas shame would make me feel that I was wrong.

That realisation and clarity profoundly helped me process a range of emotions and situations in and outside of work. It particularly helped me develop and grow more compassion for leaders who I had previously believed were bad leaders making bad choices (essentially shaming them), however this new frame allowed me to accept that those leaders are doing the best they can with the knowledge and understanding they have and my role as an interventionist is to help make things visible in ways that cause a sense of guilt or cognitive dissonance which would then drive a behavioural change in that leader.

So what I found was that I used to think that judging leaders was ok, I now know that developing compassion and understanding shame and guilt I fundamentally believe that all leaders (in fact anyone) has the capacity and capability to change their behaviour.  To do otherwise would be to give up on them completely and that didn’t feel very compassionate…

I want to say for anyone who might be reading this, that I am ok. I really am.  I’m happy, in fact very happy and peaceful with the imperfect person I am today and that has taken some time and yes I wobble a lot but I’m more consciously aware of what is happening so am now able to talk to the people I trust to get support and unpack situations around shame in ways that are productive and help me grow as opposed to forcing me to feel trapped, alone, fearful and inferior.

I also want to say that the journey I’m on was not a reaction to a particular situation but a desire and internal commitment to grow, develop and learn more about myself so that I can consistently show and be more compassionate, understand how to hold my integrity and let go so that I may find humility.

I’m privileged to be able to go on this journey and present myself as a whole person. The developmental journey within my role as an interventionist has been an incredible one and it allows me to understand how I can support others too.

To be in a position today where I can openly talk about shame with a supportive group around me has been as a result of a number of factors and practices which you may find helpful to know and understand.

In listening and reading Dr Brene Brown work and her story, she talks about strategies and tactics to help develop and cultivate shame resilience – from what I have learnt so far, my current understanding is that the purpose of developing shame resilience practice is to help people who feel shame, feel empathy and connection instead.  There are four components to shame resilience practice, which I will start to explain below.

  1. Recognise, note and acknowledge the causes/triggers of shame. This is about learning the physiological signs, mental signs – they are often the same as trauma, high stress. For example one of my signs is my body tingles and I feel sweaty…I’d been developing a practice of noting for over a year now since I started a mindfulness practice through the Headspace app. So further expanding that practice to include and recognise the causes and triggers of shame took a little while and is still developing but was not a new practice to me. I’ve found that noting as a practice is incredibly powerful to help me work towards a more still mind and to develop more awareness so I can be more present.
  2. Practicing critical awareness.  This is about reality-checking the story you tell yourself and the expectations that arise as a result. What external factors are influencing this, are they realistic? Is this the version of yourself you want to present as your authentic self?
  3. Reaching out and telling our story. This is about connecting and experiencing empathy. For me this has been the most powerful element and took a while to achieve as I found that you need to find a trusted group of people who have earnt the right to hear your story in order to support you without judgement
  4. Speaking and naming shame. Dr Brene Brown states that shames requires 3 things grow exponentially – secrecy, silence and judgement.  Shame can not survive if spoken and treated with empathy. Therefore if we recognise, note and acknowledge shame, practice critical awareness and reach out and share our story, we can grow our resilience as we practice.

This has been and continues to be an ongoing journey for me, one that helps me and reaffirms to me that I am worthy.

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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

 

 

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.