Actualized Leadership: The Shadow Trilogy Part 1 of 3 – An Introduction

Everyone carries a shadow and the less embodied it is in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.
Carl Jung

Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
Zen saying

In my last blog I provided a brief theoretical overview for the framework of Actualized Leadership.  This model consists of Viktor Frankl’s insight into choice and personal responsibility, David McClelland’s understanding of what motivates or drives our behavior, and of course, Abraham Maslow’s concept of “self-actualization.”  It is in the space between our current behavior and our highest potential that our “Shadow,” first identified by Carl Jung, lurks.  Often under stress, or when tired or lonely, our Shadow is activated, causing us to jump to conclusions, assume the worse and overreact, undermining us and our potential.  When you hear someone say “I shot myself in the foot,” their Shadow pulled the trigger.  But it is also in this “space between” our current behavior and highest potential that our freedom of choice resides.  Within this space there are two paths: our choice to respond (Freedom), or our conditioned, reflexive decision to react (Shadow).  When we react or overreact, we feed our shadow and forfeit our freedom.  The purpose of this blog is to introduce Jung’s concept of the Shadow and to explore why it is so important to identify, process and own it so that that it does not process and own you.

Everything that has substance casts a shadow.  In other words, we – you, me, the person you most admire, and the person you dislike the most – all have a Shadow.  There’s a saying that in order to know light we must experience the dark.  In order to savor victory, we must know defeat.  And in order to appreciate happiness, joy, love and hope, we must know their opposites: sadness, grief, rejection and despair.  Many Eastern traditions, most notably Taoism, refer to necessity of the “dark” in order to experience the “light,” viewing them as two sides of the same coin.

The Shadow has been defined as the dark, rejected, instinctual sides of ourselves that we deny or repress.  Impulses such as rage, lust, greed and jealously reside in the shadow, but so too do creativity, passion and profound insight.  The more aware, open and honest you are about your Shadow, the more integrated it becomes into your entire being.  And the more integrated you are, the more your Shadow becomes a reservoir for creativity and passion.

Before we discuss its relevancy to leadership and self-actualization, I would like to provide a brief overview of Jung’s concept of the Shadow.  According to Jung, the Shadow exists at multiple levels.  At the largest level, the Collective Shadow contains all human memory at an unconscious level.  In a sense, it represents the DNA of our collective unconscious.  Although it varies by culture and heritage, there are universal “archetypes” in the Collective Shadow, such as the heroic journey of the individual warrior.  This has been perhaps most famously illustrated in our current culture by Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”  In fact, some have speculated that the mass appeal of “Star Wars” can be best understood in terms of the Collective Shadow because it connects with so many, including yours truly, on a primal level.  Jung also examined the Collective Shadow during World War II.  According to Jung, who was commissioned by the Allies to provide a psychoanalytical explanation for the rise of Nazism, Hitler had tapped into the Wotan warrior archetype found in the Collective Shadow of the Germanic people.  You may or may not agree with Jung’s explanation, but behavioral and political scientists to this day still struggle to fully explain the fervor and allegiance that the Nazi party was able to elicit from a purely rational perspective.

Whether or not you agree with Jung’s concept of the Collective Shadow, his concept of the Personal Shadow is most closely aligned with Freud’s notion of the “id” and represents the illicit desires, basic instincts and selfish impulses repressed in our unconscious.  We spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to deny, repress or manage this aspect of being.  We often explode in angry denial when someone points out a Shadow trait in ourselves that, while blatantly obvious to others, has been locked away in our “denial locker.”  Not to get ahead of ourselves, but for the next few days pay attention to what you intensely notice in others: things that you either love or hate.  More than likely this exercise will provide you with a glimpse into your Shadow.  I hope that you’re willing to look.  Jung’s quote at the beginning of this blog reminds us that we do not become enlightened by pretending to be perfect; rather, we become enlightened when we’re willing to confront and embrace this darker side of ourselves.

Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, is the concept of Leadership Shadows.  I define them as the extreme and negative manifestation of our positive drivers, which are based on irrational thoughts, unfounded fears and limiting core beliefs.  Based on the three motive needs or drivers identified by McClelland, there are three Leadership Shadows: Fear of Failure, Fear of Rejection and Fear of Betrayal.  We will explore each of these in greater detail in the coming weeks.

Shadow work isn’t easy and it isn’t always pleasant.  We’ve spent our entire lives denying or ignoring these parts of ourselves, so confronting them can be painful.  However, it’s worth the effort.  If you aren’t willing to process and own those parts of yourself that are unpleasant, then they will process and own you.  Maslow perhaps said it best: “You will either step forward into growth, or backwards into safety.”  Your ideal or actualized self is calling you to have the courage to step forward into the discomfort of growth, while your Shadow is beckoning you to play it safe, stay distracted, and to stand still in your comfort zone (perched on top of your denial locker).  The choice is yours, but know this: you will either step forward or take a step backwards; standing still is not an option.

1 Comment

  1. Kim Curley

    Great article, Will. It’s funny that we think of the “struggle” with the shadow when hugging the shadow would work whole lot better…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: