Leadership #Peopleskills: Leading & Inspiring Through Shame?

Leadership: Boosting Morale Through Shame?

Leaders, when crunch time comes are you tempted to shame some people to boost others’ morale? Do you speak badly of tough customers believing it will show employees you appreciate them? Do you shame some employees to make others feel better?

Don’t! It is short-sighted and misguided. It backfires every time and leaves scars on everyone. It paints you and your leadership style as primitive and uninspired. It can make you appear desperate to deflect any accountability for the current crunch. It can damage your reputation as we recently witnessed with The CEO of AOL.

To prevent this leadership mistake, ask yourself “Why am I really thinking of doing this?

Leadership: Image is stick figure leader shaming employees.

Leadership: Inspiring Through Shame? Image licensed from Istock.com

Image licensed via Istock.com

Leadership: You Can’t Boost Morale With Shame

Understanding where your temptation to shame others comes from is one way to avoid doing it. You can choose a more successful leadership approach through positive people skills.

  1. Do you assume that people are lazy and you can shame them into performance? It is far better leadership to assess why performance is low and take steps to make it better. Even if you remove an employee from a position, shaming them leaves unnecessary scars on the teams. Do you want everyone thinking — “Will I be next?” It doesn’t make them work smarter and contribute more. It makes them play it safe and cover their tracks!
  2. Do you feel your leadership authority is being threatened or weakened? Reassert through calm confidence and the strength to resist emotional reactions. Inner strength is the best leadership billboard.
  3. Are you confusing mob mentality for leadership influence? Shaming some people to lift others up actually means you are firing up a mob to help you lead. You can almost hear the unstated — “let’s get ’em” — cry of an angry mob. This doesn’t become your greatness as a leader. During a crunch, position your tough decisions with the business goals without shaming or blaming anyone. This will speak volumes of your strength, insight, and influence.

Leadership strength doesn’t have to roar. It doesn’t have to humiliate. You can speak with dignity and lead with knowledge and insight. Learn and own your emotional triggers. When you feel their power, pause and let your intellect overpower your triggers. Watch your calm confidence emerge! It is then that others feel strength, respect, and commitment to your leadership.

Here’s an illustration.
As The People-Skills Coach™, I could have written this post in two different ways. Which way would provide better leadership on this topic — #1 or #2?

  1. The CEO of AOL acted like a cruel jerk when he shamed his creative director in public … OR
  2. The opening that I used above.

I propose that the first approach of using shame would accomplish little. It could damage much.

Instead, choose leadership people skills that model confidence. You boost morale as you lead all to success.

Respecting everyone — even in tough moments — doesn’t mean that you are weak leaders. It means you are strong enough to lead without leaving scars. In truth, you cannot lead and inspire through shame.

What else inspires great leadership in tough times?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leadership People Skills: Responding With Dignity
Never Confuse Humility With Humiliation
Leadership & Shame by Dan Oestreich.

©2013 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

10 Responses to “Leadership #Peopleskills: Leading & Inspiring Through Shame?”

  1. Alli Polin says:

    Really important message here, Kate. Not only does it apply at the office but in families and in community organizations too – everywhere there are leaders that think that they can get people to do what they want them to do through shame. Appreciate that you didn’t just rehash what happened at AOL too but really highlighted why we’re all appalled by the behavior. Shame is not a leadership competency!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Alli for your well stated vision: “Shame is not a leadership competency!” I will tweet this attributing it to you.

      Grateful for your underscoring of the essence of the post.

      Warmest regards,

  2. Dave Moore says:

    I love this post Kate, shame and Blame are two of the biggest demotivators in business.Shaming someone into doing something is very hollow as they still will not see the reason.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      You sure said it well Dave — the shaming has a hollow (temporary) effect on change — and I add a long term effect on respect.

      Many thanks for weighing in on this subject!

  3. Dan says:

    Dear Kate

    I’m glad you decided to tackle this one — the shaming of others seems to be a contagion in some workplaces. Particularly if it starts at the top, it can easily become an entire culture. And you are so right that if you’d used the first approach mentioned above to “shame the shamer,” the problem just becomes more complicated.

    Sadly, some leaders do believe that shaming others works. They may see a short-term “effect” and feel bolstered personally, but the truth is this radically separates the leader from others, forcing the leader to use the technique repeatedly and to increasingly rely on formal power. The isolation (and often lack of listening to others) becomes self-reinforcing.

    It’s always good to remember that those who come to rely on shame to get things done are most likely acting out exactly how they were treated at one time. Bullies are the product of being bullied. Abusers are often the result of abuse. That is often why they cannot see the outcomes of their actions. They get free of their own unacknowledged, unconscious shame for a moment through the shaming of others. Hence, the shaming rolls downhill.

    How to stop this cycle? If, as a leader, you begin to notice the damage, you need to get in touch with your impulse well enough to notice when it’s about to erupt. There are typically signs it’s coming. A client of mine noticed times when he started catastrophizing and worrying about losing his job before an event. Another client noticed his grip tightening and his knuckles whitening on his chair before blowing up. A third noticed his pattern of shaming others was always linked to a report of a staff member mistake that he personally felt responsible for. The reactive blast is usually preceded by these thinking/feeling, physical or event triggers as evidence of unacknowledged inner fears (and panic) related to the shaming/abuse the person got somewhere along the way. Best to know these triggers exceptionally well; then identify and practice a different, more reasonable and humane response.

    If you work for a shaming leader, be smart about when and how to offer non-judgmental feedback focused on the results of the shaming event. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that the leader who shames is intentionally manipulating, but it is the leader who is actually being reactively and unconsciously manipulated by his or her own conditioning, despite any rationalizing words. Be firm, positive, genuine, and focused on how the outcomes contradict the goals of the leader without making that too pointed or critical. For example, “Members of the lab did feel uncomfortable and some had trouble getting back to work after what you said this morning about deadlines. And then we missed yet another deadline only a few hours later — the very thing everyone was trying to avoid. In my view, the team needs support and problem-solving. If you are open to it, may I suggest an approach that might do better at creating the outcomes everyone wants?” Please be aware, this is not a no-risk conversation — but it may well be a crucial and necessary one. If the person is open to your suggestion, great. If not, consider your alternatives, including speaking with people in HR, or if necessary, finding another job. The question always is: Is it worth it to work for someone who is negatively affecting your own sense of pride and desire to make a positive contribution?

    Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter, Kate, and my apologies for the long comment!

    Your work is a blessing.

    All the best

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear Dan,
      You add depth of understanding to the roots of this serious matter. I tend to agree w/ you when you say: “They get free of their own unacknowledged, unconscious shame for a moment through the shaming of others. Hence, the shaming rolls downhill. ”

      Many also justify the shaming behavior in the premise of productivity, org. success, and profitability. I wonder if this is fear driven or convenience thinking.

      I am grateful for your addition to this post and always welcome your insights and true life examples!

      Best and warmest wishes,

  4. Maria Garcia says:

    Thank you Kate for this excellent post. You have touched several interesting points in a way that makes one reflect profoundly on this subject.
    Shaming other is not a good idea under any circumstances.
    Leadership is not easy it requires dedication, understanding, some phycology and compassion among other things.
    One thing I find helpful when my emotions are about to surface is to think on how would I like to be treated in a situation like this? and it makes me pause before reacting. I had the pleasure of working with great leaders in my life. one in particular past away several years ago. when I made a mistake she would not say a thing to me Instead she will put a blank sticky note on my office door. If I tried to go to her office to explain my self, she would say something like this: what? Did you started on the project yet? Where are you on it? No explanation needed move forward you’ll do better next time.
    She never used shaming on any of the team members. Her silence said it all. She definitely was a great leader and a great example for all of us.
    We all make mistakes at one point or another, but “It takes a wise man to recognize that he is wrong”
    And it makes one even wiser if we don’t repeat them again.
    Thank you for bringing up such an important part of leadership


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you Maria for your interest in this topic AND for contributing your experience here in the comments section. When humans learn from every moment, so much is possible!

      I hope you will visit often and add your perspective.

      Warmest wishes and regards,

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