Move Away From Shame-Based Management to Inspire Productivity
The goal of all leadership is to create success. Leaders who shame employees or rely on threats to obtain results might feel they are getting their job done.
No doubt managing a team is extremely challenging and maybe on a financial level these leaders are succeeding, but making employees feel inferior or afraid does not foster lasting success.
Some leaders rely on shame out of pure frustration or to release anger. Or they desire to gain control.
But shame impinges on the emotional well-being of employees and prompts their self-perception of not being effective. If shame-based leadership produces results, it's because employees are performing out of fear not passion.
Under such circumstances when something goes wrong, the employees involved often don't fully understand what was done incorrectly and what should be improved. The employees are only trying to survive the current threat hanging over their heads.
Here are some other negative impacts:
1. Diminished self-worth.
When employees are criticized or publically ostracized, they begin to lose confidence and become filled with self-doubt and fear, often leading to even more mistakes. If people are nervous, they lose focus, miss small details and end up turning in incomplete work, thereby slowing progress.
The belief of not being good enough can damages an employee’s attitude, trust in others, sense of success and ability to sustain motivation. Shame-based leadership can easily destroy the morale of a previously highly successful individual.
With shame- or fear-based leadership, employees are rarely rewarded for their efforts, successes or triumphs. These employees come to believe they are never good enough and feel less than human.
Some workers try to make up for their “ineffectiveness” by turning into overachievers while others underachieve. The overachievers, however, aren't any healthier emotionally than the underachievers.
Both sets of employees are operating out of fear and low self-worth. Some staffers are trying to outrun their negative emotions, covering them up with success and by trying to gain the favor of the manager. The underchieving others are living in shame through learned helplessness.
Shame takes ahold inside employees as inner voices that mimic the leader's messages to not be “so stupid” or “so useless.” Shamed employees might desire to attain rewards but are inhibited by these internalized voices saying they are “ridiculous” or "not effective.”
These employees desire to get ahead and speak up but are held back by a deep insecurity that they're not good enough. They fear that their ideas or input will expose them to further castration and recrimination by their leader and possibly others.
Related: 6 Alternatives to Being a Bad Boss
4. Poor self-expression.
Having felt the sting of their manager’s negative judgment, shamed employees completely censor themselves to escape being seen as embarrassments, unintelligent or stupid. Shame crushes their enthusiasm, expressive essence, curiosity and desire to do things by themselves and stifles their work abilities out of fear of being ostracized.
5. Unpredictability in emotions.
The experience of shame inhibits the expression of all emotions, except anger. Employees who are shamed fluctuate between feeling frozen and complete hostility.
When leaders shame employees, they leave them feeling humiliated. These workers become paranoid about others in authority, prompting fear and anger.
Shamed employees end up communicating their anger through passive-aggression or self-destruction. They can become hypersensitive, feeling disapproved of by others. This can prompt them to take everything personally, even when no one is rejecting them.
Shamed employees become experts at reading body language and other subtleties in the behavior of managers or other team members but they often misconstrue messages as signs of impeding rejection.
The consequences of shame-based leadership seep negatively throughout a company slowing success in a work environment that's intolerable. Words that many leaders consider harmless have the power to puncture employees' self-esteem and drain their motivation.
If and when shame is used, consciously or accidentally, the manager must repair the damage immediately by owning up to the mistake and apologize. This will teach employees to be human, take responsibility for errors and redirect a situation and start again. This is the essence of how to model the type of teamwork that's so necessary for long-term success.
In taking ownership for shaming mistakes, managers teach employees about integrity. This way they lead through understanding and insight rather than shame and humiliation. This is what can inspire a more healthy morale among staff. Mangers must teach employees that they need to do better not be better.
If shame-based leadership is internalized by someone as a message, stating, “I, the person, am ineffective,” successful management teaches an employee “what I did was ineffective” and this inspires improvement.
Sherrie Campbell is a psychologist in Yorba Linda, Calif., with two decades of clinical training and experience in providing counseling and psychotherapy services. She is the author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. Her new book, Success Equations: A Path to an Emotionally Wealthy Life, is available for pre-order.