Actualized Leadership: Integrating Your Leadership Shadow – Part 1 of 5: Meeting Your Shadow

Actualized Leadership: Integrating Your Leadership Shadow – Part 1 of 5: Meeting Your Shadow

To confront a person with his own Shadow is to show him his own light.
Carl Jung

Over the next five blogs I would like to propose a framework for helping you integrate your Leadership Shadow into your conscious awareness and, in doing so, become more adept at managing it. As I often tell my MBA students – if you don’t manage your Shadow, it will manage you. And when this occurs, it leads to less than optimal outcomes, at best, or outright disaster, at worst. The purpose of this blog is to define Leadership Shadows and help you identify yours by offering a short (and free) assessment.

When the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was asked by an exasperated patient how to identify his Shadow, he remarked, “Ah yes, now that is the question; how do you find the lion that has already swallowed you?” I am fairly certain he chose his words carefully to make a point about the ferocity of the Shadow when we ignore, deny, or repress it. The Shadow is elusive and by its very nature hard to pin down, especially when we deny or project it onto others. There’s an old saying that we often fail to notice that which we refuse to observe. Our Shadow likes us where we are; therefore, taking personal responsibility and paying attention on purpose isn’t always easy.

Leadership Shadows are defined as “the extreme or dark side of positive motive needs that are grounded in irrational thoughts, unfounded fears and self-defeating behaviors.” There are three motive needs with three corresponding Leadership Styles and Shadows, and they are presented in the following figure:

Before we explore some ways to shine some light on our Shadow, it’s important to note common defensive mechanisms that keep us in what Jung referred to as the “fog of illusion.” There are three common pitfalls to avoid when trying to identify your Shadow: total denial, over-identification, or erratic oscillation between the two. Denying your Leadership Shadow because it is not you at your best, which is reinforced today in our ‘StrengthsFinders Culture,’ represents your Shadow at its most effective. Denying something is valid or accurate because it doesn’t fit your ego “ideal self” is a very common, and very tragic, defensive mechanism. On the other hand, over-identifying with only your negative aspects (i.e., your Leadership Shadow) lacks accuracy and objectivity, too. Both of these extreme responses represent intense reactions in opposite directions, but are inaccurate nonetheless. Wildly moving between the two, one day totally owning and accepting your Leadership Shadow and then the next day denying it, is both erratic and unsustainable, not to mention very difficult for those around you. What these three pitfalls have in common is a lack of measured and rational acceptance, which then leads to integration. As you begin this process, take care to avoid these extremes.

Finally, pay attention to your extreme emotional reactions to others – what you tend to love or hate. This common dynamic is called projection and it refers to the process of projecting your positive and negative traits, which you have repressed or disowned, onto others. In the “Gospel of Matthew” Jesus taught about the ills of this dynamic and how it results in judging others:

Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the wooden beam in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ while the wooden beam is in your own eye?  You hypocrite! Remove the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 
Matthew 7: 3-5

So, the first step for integrating your Leadership Shadow is to accurately identify and accept it. To identify your Leadership Style and Shadow for free, please click on the following link and complete the short assessment:

The next few blogs will focus on each unique Leadership Style and Shadow and offer a framework for integration. I hope you will take the time to find the “leadership lion” that may have already swallowed you and, in doing so, begin the transformational process of stepping into your highest potential and becoming a more Actualized Leader.

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