Connect with Your Leadership Shadow

Becoming a leader is an honour and privilege; yet, two unavoidable things typically happen when someone steps into the role. The first is a natural division created between them and the employees they are to lead. The second is strong attributes that may be overplayed once in a position of power – this can lead to a negative leadership style and may even become a weakness.

Direct and open communication can come across as aggressive and forceful; a concern for others can come across as unable to make decisions; having great attention to detail can appear as analysis by paralysis; or worse, micro managing. 

These ‘strengths’ overplayed, are known as the leadership shadow. And the exaggeration of these characteristics are often concealed because they’re believed to be positive. 

The most effective learning opportunity for leaders to check themselves is when they’re faced with criticism. It’s a key moment to bring to light the characteristics that may go unnoticed – the ones that may be hiding. It can be a very difficult thing to do: exposing vulnerabilities – especially when ‘leaders’ are expected to be composed all the time and have all the right answers.

However, without acknowledgement and control, overpowering traits will inevitably have detrimental effects on the leader, their direct reports and in some cases the company.

According to Erik de Haan and Andy Copeland’s article in Training Journal, “[too] much discretion or unchecked power allows our naturally selfish tendencies and self-confidence to grow and lead in the direction of abuse of power or leadership derailment, just like a spoiled child will throw ever more problematic tantrums.”(1)

Leaders can only be at their best when they’re in touch with and acknowledge their shadow. This process of checking-in offers a new and clear perspective. Appreciating the benefits that certain characteristics can bring to roles while understanding the ones that may be volatile is the key to managing the leadership shadow. 

What are some attributes that can get in the way of your success, or lead you to success? Think about how you can and will overcome these obstacles to let your strengths truly shine, casting a positive shadow that inspires employees even in your absence.






1) The Leadership Shadow, Training Journal: February 2015.