Once you’ve been in a leadership role for awhile, you develop a leadership style that is comfortable. You begin to relax in that role, feeling you are at the top of the learning curve and confident that you know how to be a leader.
Beware! This is the slipperiest spot on the slope. You can get lulled into a complacency that will eventually be your undoing.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Lolly Daskal, executive coach and author of the new book The Leadership Gap. According to Lolly, “A problem that all high performers face sooner or later is that what once worked to propel their rise stops working. The very same traits that once worked for them start to work against them.”
When you overuse a strength, you tap into its shadow. – Lolly Daskal
Carl Jung is famous for formulating the concept of the shadow, the aspects of our personality we hold in the darkness of our unconscious. Our shadows are what we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves – the parts of ourselves we’re not proud of, the thoughts and feelings we don’t want others to know about . . . that we ourselves don’t want to know about.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less [aware of it he is], the blacker and denser it is.” (Carl Jung, Wikipedia)
Unexamined and unacknowledged, your shadow exerts unconscious control over your thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions. “It forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions,” according to Jung. “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.”
Your Shadow Side of Leadership
“All of us try to do good work. We don’t show up at work and say we want to be deceivers or manipulators,” says Lolly Daskal. What happens is our shadow gets triggered, often without even realizing it. Our shadows make us feel unworthy, and we take action to cover them up.
According to Jung, often we project the problems we created through our shadow outward onto others, blaming them for the very thing we are responsible for.
Unmask your shadows to take away their power over you. – Lolly Daskal
According to Lolly Daskal, “our shadows mask our greatness and don’t allow us to stand in the light.”
Embracing your shadows can be a huge relief. You don’t have to pretend to always know the answer, or always be competent, or always be compassionate, or always be happy. You can stop propping up whatever false image you are trying to project.
You can acknowledge your “darker” side without being afraid of it. It doesn’t mean you will start acting out your dark side. Just because you have a feeling or a desire, doesn’t mean you need to take action on it. Adults have the ability to make rational decisions about what they will say or do.
Begin by acknowledging the parts of your personality you want to hide or keep secret. When you begin to feel fear, shame, or unworthiness, don’t push those feelings away immediately. Take a moment to consider what they are keeping you from seeing, thinking or doing.
When you acknowledge your shadows, you become more humane, more approachable, and more connected.
You are better prepared to grapple with the reality that life is not “all or nothing.” You end up with true humility.
. . . These are the key ingredients to being a truly great leader.
This post is inspired by my friend and colleague Lolly Daskal’s brillant new book The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness. Lolly explains the seven archetypes of leadership and the risk to greatness that lurks in the shadow of each. And she provides real-life examples of leaders who embody these archetypes. I read it, I love it, I recommend it!