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Accountability and Shame

Oct 13, 2020 1:54:48 PM


This week I listened to Brené Brown’s podcast (Dated July 1st) on Shame and Accountability. Brené is the leading researcher on shame and vulnerability and I have been a huge fan of hers for years. (See my picture with her at a book signing in Denver in 2012). The podcasts timing could not have been better. In recent days, and as a white woman, I have grappled to clarify for myself white accountability for systemic racism, without taking on the shame. There is no doubt in my mind that I have put a stake in the ground to do my part to eradicate systemic racism by questioning and advocating for change to policies that allow it to continue. With that being said, one topic that I believe may hurt progress is white guilt or shame. I feel uneasy regarding the idea of white shame, or there being a right or wrong way for how white people should feel about the sins of our ancestors. Please do not misinterpret what I am saying, while I do not believe in generational shame as a tool for social justice, I do believe that being part of the system makes us each accountable for how it operates.

In recent days I have become very clear about why shame is a difficult word for me. It is because of my efforts to conquer shame for myself and my clients. Shame has been at the center of my life’s work and I would go so far as to say at the center for everyone’s journey toward wholeness.

Many of you have a general idea of what I do at Xponents, but I realized yesterday that even those close to me do not fully understand. Leadership, Team Development and Coaching takes on many forms. My work involves building trusting relationships that normalizes our collective humanness. This means practicing non-judgement and creating psychological safety. Without safe space it can be hard to deepen awareness on both what dis-empowers and empowers the best version of self. Coaches practice how to be with others and walk them toward recognizing their deepest fear, the fear of not being enough. As a coach or workshop leader I visit the old myth or story my clients tell themselves and support them in finding a new story. This work is deeply emotional and connected to excavating purpose. In some ways, I have developed a nose for shame, like a hound dog who is always on the hunt. You might be asking yourself why I am sharing all of this with you now. Well, my husband and I listened to Brene’s podcast together and then discussed how it connected to my work. Because I have been a coach for a long time, I learned years ago not to coach my spouse and children. When he became surprised as I explained the nature and depth of the conversations, I have with my clients it dawned on me that I have not been fully telling my story.

There is no way to tell people what I do in my work without talking about shame. Leadership coaches, primarily support people to move toward a new desired state. One of my objectives is developing self-awareness of where people get stuck. To do that, and for many years, I have used the work of Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception. They use a simple model to describe one’s inner state following a triggering event. When one is inside the box, rather than leveraging his or her best self they find themselves wrestling with a threatened ego. I specifically coach to identify dis-empowered states so there is clarity on what it feels like physically, emotionally, and to notice what they are telling themselves. Busting our myths is a key part of transformation. Leadership and Self Deception teaches us how we deceive ourselves from inside the box by justifying our own rightness and another’s wrongness. This robs us from operating at our highest and best self. While guilt means I have done something that I perceive as bad, shame means that I am bad and creates a negative self-image. My belief is that if I can catch myself being lied to by my ego, I can choose to pick a more powerful place to stand. Supporting people to identify a structure to get out of the box accelerates a return to an empowered state. When people feel shame, they are judging themselves or believing they are impotent. People take-action when they are empowered and can get stuck in a dis-empowered state without awareness and the tools to recover. Xponents’ programs, and specifically in The Cycle of TransformationLeadership Mastery, Creating Collaborative Partnerships and during coaching engagements provide those tools. 

Regardless of where you stand on racism, what I hope you can take away from this post is that each of us plays a role in the communities and systems we are a part of. It is not my intent to shame anyone on this or any topic. What I prefer is to call to our higher selves to imagine a better world where all Americans feel equally valued and respected. My concern is that blame, and shame create resistance and deflection that works against the action needed to move us forward. In my world, I want to believe that we all are united around the ideal “all men (and women) are created equal.” With that belief comes a responsibility to search out the policies that have been working against that shared value. Let’s stop looking first for what divides us and instead hold ourselves accountable for doing our part to live up to our ideals.

Listen to Brene Brown on Shame and Accountability.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is the owner and founder of Xponents. She completed her Masters in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. Deb is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach."

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