After 25 years of working with hundreds and hundreds of leaders, there is one thing I can tell you for certain: no one is perfect. Sometimes with a leader, their shadow side can add a certain flair or flavor to his or her reputation. Sometimes that shadow side is checked and balanced by the leader’s team and colleagues. Yet on occasion, this shadow side can be harmful, toxic, or negligent, both to your own goals and to the workplace.
When looking at leadership shadows, your goal is to build awareness, discover your choices, and learn to play with them, so that you can enhance your leadership effectiveness. Here are some two tips:
1) Be curious.
You can sometimes learn and benefit more from being an observer than by making a judgment call and speaking up when a leader’s shadow side shows itself. Evaluate, notice the dynamics at play, see the flawed underpinnings in thinking that led to this negative situation, the misplaced motivations, and the costly consequences. But avoid throwing stones. Keep focused on the main objective of looking at the shadow and learn from it.
2) Notice your emotional reactions.
Whenever you find that you have a strong, involuntary response to something, pay attention. That response is great data. It means that something important to you is being flagged. It could be a value, a boundary, a belief, or a memory being triggered. Treat your reaction with curiosity, without getting overly in your head. Note the thoughts you are having at that moment and pay attention to your feelings. The stronger the feeling, the more information there is for you track down the exact thought that triggered it. Remember, it is your thinking puts everything into motion. It is always better to know what drives you and your reactions. Remember, this journey is all about self-mastery, and awareness of your reactions is a critical step.
3) Think like a coach.
As a coach, I offer clients the opportunity to reflect on their patterns and choices, to better understand themselves and highlight the real and full results they are producing. You need a certain mindset to facilitate such an awareness.
When I enter a coaching situation with someone who is confronting the consequences of their shadow side, an underlying assumption I have is that everyone is actually trying their best and they are trying to preserve themselves in some manner. Everyone in the world is just trying to make sense of things, be happy, or feel a sense of connection or well-being. Frankly, sometimes I think “There but for the grace of God go I”. I easily could have been the one to be in those circumstances, to have made the same bad choices or mistakes, simply because I lacked awareness of myself. The same may be true for you as well. Leaders are, after all, only human!
There is always the chance that your shadow can create negative consequences, but remember that it is just an indicator of your greater potential and gifts. It’s all a question of what you do with these opportunities when you hit those strategic choice points.
Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work to learn more.