Leadership and Your Shadow

If you have not yet met your Shadow during a project, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s only a matter of time before you do. You will meet her on a day when the sun seems to have disappeared behind the clouds and nothing seems to be working.

On that day, you might find yourself….

  • Highlighting what is wrong…rather than engaging people in a need to do things differently. (Edgy Catalyzer)
  • Be reluctant to hear the negative or even be realistic about the problems…rather than accept that people need to make sense of change in their own way or at their own pace. (Visionary Motivator)
  • Railroading people into an unworkable solution or timetable…rather than adapting to changing circumstances. (Tenacious Implementer)
  • Be unwilling to ruffle people’s feathers…rather than taking a stand on what needs to be said because you fear diminishing the role of others. (Measured Connector)
  • Be paralyzed by the need to get the perfect design…rather than getting something working operationally. (Thoughtful Architect)

At that moment, you will have to decide whether you will let your shadow drive you into reacting to your circumstances, or take a step back and reflect on your situation.

Cameron and Green, authors of Making Sense of Leadership, recommend that leaders:

  1. Distinguish yourself from your role. On bad days, the noise and criticism can seem deafening. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Externalize the conflict. Focus on the issues – not on the personalities. By staying focused on the issues, you stand a better chance of getting closer to your objective and not getting bogged down in side issues.
  3. Use partners. Find people you can trust to serve as sounding boards (vent on) and keep things impersonal.
  4. Listen to yourself. Knowledge of your own weaknesses is probably the best defense against your shadow. Cameron writes, “Reflecting on daily actions, living with a certain degree of doubt about whether we are making all the right decisions….using others to feed back the consequences of our actions and any blind spots are all ways we can develop our self-knowledge.”
    Take advantage of books and online applications that offer self-assessments on your personality, strengths and weaknesses. Do What You Are is an example of a book that provides insight on personality type based on Myers-Briggs, offering advice on how to leverage your personality strengths and minimize your weaknesses in your career.
  5. Find a sanctuary. Find space in your schedule to give yourself time to reflect on your direction, actions and challenges.
  6. Preserve a sense of purpose. Returning on a regular basis to the question ‘what is my purpose’ along with reflection on your actions and their consequences helps in challenging times, say Cameron and Green.

When you step back and consider the situation, instead of letting your shadow drive your actions, you’ll be far more effective.


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