Beware! The Shadow Side of Leadership

Beware! Shadow

Leadership is a crucible of self-awareness. As a leader, you’re out front, visible; that’s a key part of being a leader. If others can’t see you, they can’t possibly follow you. That visibility can be a benefit and a curse. Your leadership is developed in the crucible of the life of your group, your team, your organization, your family. That is an opportunity for succeeding and also an opportunity to fail. Leading when at your best gives others a way forward, a vision for what can be and a way to get there.

There is another side to leadership, though. As a Bold & Courageous Leader you need to be aware of this side of leadership; the side that can trip you up and cause you to fail in your leadership. This side of leadership is often referred to as the shadow side of leadership. Without awareness of this side, you will most certainly trip and fail in your leadership. I’ve done it. I’m sure you have, too.

The Shadow Side of Leadership defined:

Shadow side of leadership is any strength or behavioral style used to excess, going into overdrive. This overused strength becomes negative and creates toxic environments and relationships. It leads to resistance and a failure of leadership, rather than success.

How do we address the shadow of our leadership?

1. Self-awareness – know your strengths and what the shadow of it looks like.

According to StrengthsFinder, Maximizer is my top strength – the shadow of maximizer is perfectionism. I struggle with this and have moved to a goal of excellence, not perfection. This takes lots of pressure off and allows me to move forward.

We've talked before about what self-awareness is, but as I was recently re-reading a book by Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness, I was struck by his comments about self-awareness. He uses five words to portray the meaning of self awareness:

  • Self-knowledge (knowing who you are)
  • Self-mindfulness (understanding your motives for doing what you do)
  • Self-vigilance (knowing what makes you tick and what ticks you off)
  • Self-consciousness (knowing how you come across to others)
  • Self-alertness (maintaining your emotional, physical, and spiritual condition)

The discipline of self-awareness then is the leader's intentional quest for self-understanding. The hazards of not engaging in this discipline can be disastrous for a leader! Hidden addictions or compulsions may lead to behaviors that create huge problems. McNeal points out the risk of being blindsided by destructive impulses and confused by emotions that threaten to derail the leader's agenda and effectiveness, as well as the risk of over- or under-estimating their abilities, leading to unpredictable responses. He makes the excellent point that for followers, credibility rides or falls on consistency—something leaders who are short on self-awareness usually do not have!

McNeal states that “leaders lacking self-awareness are besieged from within,” making them their own worst enemy!

2. Accountability Partners – others to walk the path with you.

Find others you trust to speak into your life. Authorize them to speak, and then listen to what they say.

3. Reflection time – set aside time to consider your leadership.

What does it look like? Is that how you want to interact with the world? Margin is important here. It gives you permission to evaluate your leadership and the relationships that are part of it. How are you showing up? Where are the gaps you need to address in your self?

This speaks to self-alertness—if you don't have margin…don't spend time reflecting on what's going on internally, you will be unable to maintain your emotional, physical, and spiritual condition!

The Bold & Courageous Leader Retreat

Join us for the Bold & Courageous Leader retreat where you’ll have time to reflect and become more self-aware. You'll meet other Bold & Courageous Leaders to help hold you accountable. The registration deadline is approaching soon – don't miss this opportunity to dig deeper into what it means to be a Bold & Courageous Leader.


Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast, The Shadow Side of Leadership

StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath

Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, by Reggie McNeal

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