Shame, Embarrassment, and Growth

It’s really effing hard being a leader. One of the hardest parts is that you usually need to look like you know what you are doing. Sometimes you know what you’re doing. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing. And sometimes you think you’re one when you’re actually the other.

It’s important for a company to have a singular vision and clear leadership. It’s also important to have a diversity of ideas within a company — building from a wide variety of perspectives and opinions. In the end though, some kind of decision needs to be made for the company to move forward. Some decisions are well reasoned. Some are made with the toss of a coin.

The sum of these decisions is the foundation of a company. It’s what we build on. Who are we? What are we? How do we do what we do? Our decisions define us.

But the real test of leadership is what happens when our team of diverse thinkers calls past decisions into question. If our decisions are our foundation, do we see this as an attack at the foundation of our business? Do we question our skills as a leader and decision-maker? Or do we lash out at those who would dare to question our leadership skills, offer them severance packages, and invite them to resign if they’re not effing happy at our effing company?

It’s hard not to get emotional when we feel like our own people are keeping us from moving forward. We already made these decisions! Why can’t everyone just shut up and let us be done debating? It can feel like our leadership is being called into question. Do people not trust our decision-making skills? Why do they even work here if they don’t respect me? This shame and embarrassment often leads to anger or depression.

So how do we get out of this cycle?

First off, just because people are questioning some of your decisions, it doesn’t mean they are questioning all of your decisions. But this is an inflection point. It’s a test of your ability to be flexible and open-minded while your emotions are triggering your fight or flight response. Fear and open-mindedness are oppositional concepts though. Fear closes the mind. If we’re going to stay open-minded, we’re going to need to redefine the structures that cause us these negative emotions in the first place.

So what if we set aside this concept of the infallible leader? Let’s take down that facade. Give it up. Our decisions are not dogma. They are an accomplishment. They are a foundation. But any company that is open to growth is open to change. So we may need to make some changes to strengthen our foundation. And if we can admit some fallibility — some humanity, maybe we can open ourselves up for collaboration. This “criticism” of our ideas can become “collaboration” around our ideas. And if we include more people in our leadership process, we’re already growing.

When we are able to collaborate around decisions, we feel less personally responsible for them. If they are called into question, we’re less likely to feel personally attacked. We’re less like to feel shame and embarrassment, and we’re opening ourselves up to improvement, change, and growth.

Jeff Robbins is a business coach, mentor, and virtual business partner who works one-on-one with company owners and leaders to help them build vision and direction for their companies while building productivity, stability, and happiness for their employees and themselves. You can work with him too. Reach out to set up a free consultation session.

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Jeff Robbins

Cofounder at @Lullabot. Executive Coach at @jjeff. Rockstar at @Orbitband.