Monica Lewinsky addresses the culture of shame

Culture is shaped by our behaviors, and both repetitive human errors and at-risk behaviors can be detrimental to the direction of an organization. For leaders, this is critical to note.

Why? It is simple. Leaders have the authority to shape the system and culture, ultimately determining the direction of an organization. What is allowed and voiced within the workplace either gives room for learning and growth, or squashes learning and growth.

In March 2015, Monica Lewinsky presented the Ted Talk message “The Price of Shame,” which focused on the effects of cyber bullying. Out of respect for Lewinsky, it was Ted’s aim to provide a safe place for her because it was among her first public appearances in 10 years. However, comments derailing Lewinsky began almost immediately upon the posting of the message (before the public would have time to watch the full 20 minute Ted Talk).

The very thing that Lewinsky was speaking up about was happening.

With that, three Ted employees immediately took control of the situation through aggressively monitoring the comments being made: they would purge the negative comments and reply to the positive comments, bringing the good to the top of the feed. After much deliberate work, the Ted employees saw a shift within the public forum—the voices that uplifted, empowered and encouraged Lewinsky were prevailing, changing the forum content and culture altogether.

The public began to see what was clearly accepted and what was not acceptable for the forum.

During Lewinsky’s message, she encouraged the listeners to become “upstanders,” defending those who are victims in the world’s steep culture of shame. Interestingly, the very call-to-action given by Lewinsky during her message was manifesting within the forum—people were becoming “upstanders” for Lewinsky in the midst of a culture of shame.

One commenter wrote: “I am so inspired by her wisdom and courage. I cannot imagine the depths of despair she went through and wow look at the incredible message she is bringing to us now because she survived and is now thriving.”

Clearly, through this case, we see the way that the Ted employees shaped—and ultimately shifted—the culture of the forum, helping to redefine the norm within the forum. The Ted employees victoriously encouraged the voices that silenced the shame and silenced the voices that encouraged shame.

For leaders within the workplace, it is important to understand that through empowering individuals who are giving voice to desired outcomes within the workplace, we shape the culture of the workplace in a positive manner, creating an open atmosphere encouraging the desired outcome, and thus, discouraging the undesired outcome.

It is evident through the Lewinsky case, the power of unity to shift a culture--and within the workplace voices that uplift, encourage, and empower each other to learn and grow--can eventually impact the culture of the organization as a whole.