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Shadow, as originally coined by early psychologist Carl Jung, is things about ourselves that we don’t know we don’t know. Shadow is somewhat comparable to our unconscious. It is parts of ourselves, both the golden parts and the not so pretty parts, that we hide, repress, deny, indulge, or justify. These are parts of us that we have no wish to be, or are unaware of being, or are unaware of the impact of, or don’t care about the negative impact of.
We’re limited as leaders when we don’t know about our unintended impacts. When we don’t understand our roles in what is going right or wrong, we can’t help things go better, or more consciously and deliberately do what we are already doing to help things go well. Without a conscious relationship with our positive and negative impacts, we are going to be confused as leaders as to why things go well and why they don’t. That’s why it’s important for leaders to have elevated shadow literacy.
Here is a very simple everyday example. A leader sent out an email about a specific project to what he thought was the project team. But the name of one of the team members was attached to another team’s email notification list. The leader didn’t check the email addresses before sending them out. So this notification about a particular project went to a bunch of people who were not involved in that project. We make these human errors. No harm, no shame, no fault, no blame.
The shadow came in when he didn’t follow that up with an email to the people he had notified who weren’t part of that team, after it was pointed out what he had inadvertently done. He should have written an “oops” email: I am sorry to have bothered you. I made a mistake. It was the wrong email address for one of the team members, and you got notified inadvertently about something that isn’t relevant to you.
Because he didn’t send out that repair message, he received an angry email about carelessness and wasting time from someone who shouldn’t have been notified. That anger was needless anger. If the oops follow-up had occurred, there would have been no resentment, anger, or frustration on the part of the people who were unintentionally notified. That is the symptom.
The shadow piece in this particular leader has to do with a dynamic that is often called special boy. The special boy shadow is where, if I make a mistake or if I have an unintended negative impact, I am special and I don’t need to do any repair. You should give me a pass and not worry about it. If you get upset because I haven’t done a repair, that is your problem. That is all impact shadow. I am in denial about the unintended negative impacts of an unintended behavior of mine, or an unintended role that I’ve played in a complication that has occurred. That is an everyday example of shadow.
But the person who sent the angry email was doing shadow withhold, meaning that he had seen this pattern before in this particular leader. He had never told that leader about the unintended impact of not doing these repairs, and he had accumulated increasing resentment toward the leader until he reached his breaking point. It was like the Popeye cartoons, just before Popeye reaches for his spinach because he can’t stand any more. This particular fellow reached the Popeye point, and he attacked the leader from shadow because he was withholding unfinished business toward the leader.
Elevated shadow literacy requires much more than those acquainted with shadow often realize. Specifically relevant dimensions for leaders include power shadow, where leaders have a shadow relationship with the power that their leadership role has. They are either in power tyranny, or they are in denial about the power that they have or their role has. They aren’t in the right relationship with the power inherent in the leadership role.
Another aspect of shadow is authority shadow, common in leaders with unresolved authority issues. They either have an adolescent rebellion against authority, or they are drunk on being the authority. They are egotists, narcissists, or they are power-phobic, even though they are in an authority role, running away from recognizing the authority that their role has.
Another aspect of shadow is archetypal shadow. There are basically five core varieties of power that are captured by archetypes. Archetypes are prototypes of key aspects of what it is to be human in a loving place in the world. Leaders who don’t express the lover archetype in their leadership are perceived to be intimidating, and they don’t know it because they are out of touch with expressing lover archetypal energy in an appropriate way through their leadership role.
Another aspect of shadow is our survival plan from childhood that has turned into an unholy version of a redemption plan as an adult. Nothing to do with spirit redemption, it is the ego’s distortions about redemption: I am going to make up for how I failed to get the connection, validation, or safety that I needed growing up by over-excelling, overachieving, etc., as an adult. With power or money, those redemption plan scripts undermine and sabotage authentic leader effectiveness.
Another dimension of shadow for leaders is money shadow: thinking about money in ways that sabotage profits or aggrandize money to a level where leaders are willing to sacrifice integrity, relationships, and social responsibility for greater profits in the short run, despite committing brand slaughter, as David Corbin refers to it, in the long run.
The final big aspect of leadership shadow is boundary shadow. Most people think of a boundary as a line in the sand or ultimatum. Those are not boundaries, although they get misdefined that way. A boundary is any limit I need to honor to love (a person or relationship) or to collaborate (a work relationship) with you with integrity and without resentment. Real, authentic boundaries are about collaboration, not ultimatums or lines in the sand. When leaders don’t have clarity about healthy boundaries and how to enact them in effective ways in their leadership role, they are in boundary shadow.
We have shadows in power, authority, archetype, survival and redemption plans, money, and boundaries, all of which are part of shadow illiteracy in leaders, not because we are horrible people, but because shadow is something that linguists call an empty category, a nameless phenomenon. With no name, a conscious relationship can’t be developed with it. No harm, no shame, no fault, no blame. Now that you are aware of the existence of shadow and its unintended negative impacts on leader effectiveness, you can develop shadow literacy. There are many books that can help people with shadow awareness. Start integrating this into your leadership effectiveness.
Open your own doors around shadow awareness. This is not about shame or blame or anything along those lines. It is quite the opposite. Even effective, seasoned leaders simply haven’t been exposed to this dimension of leadership.
All of us can identify leaders who are operating from places of shadow in their relationship to how they express leadership. They don’t even know that there is such a thing as leader shadow, let alone what the dimensions are, or how to develop a conscious relationship with these aspects of ourselves so that we can lead in an elevated way.
Imagine what it would be like if the leaders in your business, nonprofit, community organization, places of worship, and the government were really aware of leader shadow and had literacy around the right relationship with these dimensions. Imagine what the quality of leadership would be. It is possible to develop. Let’s do it.
Dr. David Gruder is a multi-award-winning clinical and organizational development psychologist specializing in culture and business psychology, bringing the wisdom of psychology and entrepreneurship to nonprofits and for-profits. Speaker, trainer and trusted advisor, he was the founding president of a thriving international nonprofit, is on the core faculty for the California Institute for Human Science, and is Co-Head of Faculty for CEO Space International. www.DrGruder.com
This article is reprinted from Issue #9 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!
Join Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis and their guests on our weekly Tuesday afternoon Nonprofit Exchange at 2 pm Eastern time.
If you already have a nonprofit or are thinking of starting one, this will be very helpful. Put it on your calendar NOW! It’s a session that you don’t want to miss! Discover what’s blocking your success!
The Nonprofit Exchange on Tuesdays at 2 pm ET has been quite beneficial for many participants and we have enjoyed sharing thoughts and tips for moving past the stuck places we all find in leading an organization to achieving its mission.
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As the famous British Composer and Conductor Ralph Vaughan Williams once said, “Music does not reveal all of its secrets to just one person.” If you replace the word “Music” with the word “Leadership” or “Team” or “Strategy” etc., then we all give and receive value from others. That’s the spirit of the Tuesday afternoon Nonprofit Exchange encounters, sponsored by SynerVision Leadership Foundation’s “Community for Community Builders.”
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Put this on your calendar NOW! It’s a session that you don’t want to miss! Discover what’s blocking your success!
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