The Gallery of Shadows – Part 4

In the previous few blogs, we have been examining the importance of knowing your “shadow side”, and the negative side effects that can come having no awareness of those patterns and behaviors.

In the next few blogs, we will be examining the negative consequences of leader’s “shadow sides” that I have personally witnessed in my work as an executive coach. I’ve made them vague to protect each leaders’ identity, so names and industries have been altered. These are vivid examples of what can happen when one does not pay attention to the shadow side of your Archetypal Blueprint pattern.

Let me say that these people are not ‘bad’. These were leaders who were doing their best, but acting out of a lack of self-knowledge and mastery. When a challenging opportunity hit them, they dug into preservation mode without any true reflection or choice.


“Trying to please to the point of destruction”

“Linda” was an SVP in a high-tech company in Silicon Valley. She joined the organization when it was still modest and grew with the company. She deeply enjoyed the culture, the people she worked for, and believed in the product they were producing.

The company eventually got to a growth point where it needed the founders to step down and put a new CEO in place to take the company to the next level. Overall, the CEO was a good choice. Wall Street liked him, he brought tremendous talent with him, and he had what the company needed in order to grow.

Most of the employee base experienced this changing of guard with concern, as is typical when facing unknown change at this level, but also with cautious optimism. Linda, however, experienced the change with a tremendous amount of resistance and stress. She was very good at her job and wasn’t under any immediate threat, but the shift in mindset and culture that was underway unsettled her. The new CEO valued operations, discipline, and people development in a very specific and prescribed manner. The expectations for leaders were very precisely laid out, he had a success formula that he followed to a T.

The shadow side of Linda was her attempts to adapt and please the new regime. She just didn’t agree with the new values being proposed for the company. The tension between what was being asked for and her own integrity started to create underlying stress. She became passive aggressive in her support for the new organization. Seemingly a ‘yes’ person in meetings, but complaining bitterly about the changes in private. She clocked extra hours, started making more frantic demands of her staff, and worked hard to be in a part she, in fact, did not want to play.

She addressed her strategic choice point by ‘working harder’, ignoring the issues surrounding her, and this conflict eventually caused her some stress-related health issues. Her own issues were mirrored by her staff. People were trying to please both sides of the cultural divide, those who liked it the old way and those who wanted change. They too were putting in unproductive but heavy hours and were trying to cover their backs whenever possible.

One interaction between Linda and her staff epitomized the level of unhealthy coping that was going on. When a young employee came to her for advice about the new expectations and complained about how stressful it all was, the leader simply told him to, “Try medication.” And that was honestly the very best she could offer him at that time. Her shadow side had completely taken control, both of her actions and of her entire staff.

Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work, to learn more, or learn more about the Gallery of Shadows here and here.