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Disruptive Engagement : Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work

Posted by: Ronda Devereaux | February 3, 2013 | 11:18 am



What defines a leader?  In her book Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown defines it as anyone who holds herself of himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. This puts all of us in a position of leadership. In our culture of “never enough” she wanted to find the greatest barrier to creativity and innovation. Her research led her right back to shame and vulnerability. How many of us have been shamed for having a crazy idea? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates weren’t heralded as geniuses until after they made their millions (or billions). They had to have a lot of shame resilience to get that far in the first place.


How many of us were shamed in school? I remember a time in 10th grade where I had to take out my contact lenses and couldn’t see the board. My English teacher wouldn’t let me go up and look. We were diagramming sentences. I got everything exactly backwards. The big red F on my paper had a note that gave me “The Messy Bess Award” (I had done it right then crossed it out and done it the opposite way). She also wrote me a little note that told me I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Good thing I didn’t believe her. At that age I had built up enough shame resilience to know that she was a mean, spiteful old woman who needed to retire. But what if this had happened when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade? What then?


Our educators are leaders and they are leading our young people. Our managers, executives and supervisors are teachers. Leadership and teaching crosses all kinds of lines and boundaries if we are being effective in the work that we do. No corporation or school can thrive in the absence of creativity, innovation, and learning and the greatest threat to all three of these is disengagement.  Many students and workers keep their heads down and mouths shut for fear of being “noticed”. This type of noticed is not a good thing if leadership does not handle it with vulnerability. This is what Brene’ is talking about when she tells us that we need to dare to rehumanize education and work.


Shame breeds fear. It crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity and trust. It eats away at an infrastructure without anyone noticing until the walls come tumbling down. How many of us have been part of an organization that had a weird energy or vibe that we couldn’t quite put our finger on? Blaming, gossiping, favoritism, name-calling and harassment are all behavior cues that shame has permeated a culture. Do leaders bully and criticize subordinates in front of others?


There are no shame-free schools or organizations. That’s the thing about shame. Many of us don’t even know we are wielding it. I know my daughters have been told by art teachers that their projects weren’t up to par. If they are doing their best, who can grade the creativity process??? Picasso would surely have gotten an F in today’s art classes. The other bad thing about shame is that it seems to be as contagious as the common cold. If it is used on you, there is a good chance you will use it on someone else. The next chapter is on parenting. Since reading this book I have been dreading that chapter and have really brought awareness to how I correct my girls and the language that I use – more on that later.


Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute and we stop caring. Disengagement will allow us to rationalize all different types of behavior.

Article by: Ronda Devereaux

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