14 Nov Is Your Shadow Limiting Your Leadership Potential?
Whenever you step into the light as a leader, at work, at home or the community, it’s important to remember that you cast a shadow.
Unless you’re aware of the ‘darker’ facets of your shadow and integrate them with your other leadership strengths and traits, you risk being derailed.
What is Shadow?
The term shadow refers to the disowned parts of us that we’ve pushed outside of our awareness. It is the aspects of our ourselves that we deem unacceptable in childhood, and reject and repress to fit in.
As we mature, we continue to conceal parts of ourselves to gain approval and acceptance from others. By the time we reach young adulthood we have developed a persona or mask that hides many facets.
“The shadow is created because our ego, constantly trying to control our world, sorts out things that do not fit the picture we have constructed for how to survive and be accepted.”
– Carol Adrienne
It’s important to note that we not only disown ‘lower’ facets of ourselves, but also ‘higher’ ones such as creativity, courage or vulnerability, and this is called ‘golden shadow’.
A Healthy Response
Hiding facets of ourselves may sound a little odd, but it’s actually a healthy response that helps us maintain psychological well being. In childhood the ego strength is not yet available to see and acknowledge all our structures of personality and although it may not be pleasant for other family members and friends, placing these facets outside our own awareness acts a safety mechanism for us.
Repressing a part of ourselves however does not make it go away, and as we mature into adulthood, we’re faced with a sobering choice: either do the work to reintegrate our shadow aspects; or allow those shadow aspects to shape our experience of living in a way that is not driven by our conscious choice.
“That which we do not bring to our consciousness appears in our lives as fate.”
– Carl Jung
However, given we’ve actively hidden aspects from ourselves that we don’t want to see, shadow work can be challenging on our own. Working with a professional to bring shadow into the light can accelerate the process, and this is where coaching can help.
A Leading Example
A recent coaching client highly valued the importance of giving everything 110% having grown up in a family who valued hard work. As a result, she learnt to reject the lazy parts of herself.
Now a mature woman in a senior management role, she found herself regularly getting angry and attacking her team members when in her opinion they failed to demonstrate a strong enough work ethic. The more she did this, the more dysfunctional and less effective her team became.
On reflection, she was able to see her shadow playing out in the work environment. She realised she was projecting guilt she experienced about her own lethargy onto her team.
Having this insight and sharing it with her team enabled her to bring greater compassion (to herself and other) and communicate with them in a new, more effective way.
The Benefits of Releasing Shadow
Keeping shadow repressed is hard work and consumes energy. One of the palpable benefits of releasing shadow is that it frees up vitality.
The reintegration of hidden facets of self also enables greater authenticity, creativity, and emotional freedom. Insights and answers as to why certain things are happening may also emerge.
Another bonus is that once you have a more complete understanding of what is happening from a holistic perspective, often strategies for how to work with a situation arise. With awareness comes choice. A choice to do things differently.
Is your shadow currently limiting your leadership potential? If you’d like to identify what’s holding you back from being the most effective leader you can be, and are ready to take the next step, you can contact me below.
Written by Soo Balbi
Soo is a behavioural expert and one of Australia’s leading Developmental Coaches who helps women in STEM thrive. Soo assists her clients to cut to the heart of any challenge, enabling choices and possibilities previously unavailable.