In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr defines ‘shadow work’ as “what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see”. He is referencing the required self-understanding necessary to transition from the first half of life, which he calls your false self, to the second half of life, your true self. Rohr’s stance is that no one ever truly enters into the second half without the necessary ‘shadow work’.
The same is true in our leadership.
Replication is always the initial stage, which is ok. It gives us a foundational base to build upon. Of course, some of our bases are bigger, stronger, and simply better than others. That’s ok too. It may impact our initial effectiveness, but has little to do with our long term influence as a leader.
What does impact our long term influence, however, is our ‘shadow work’.
Why Should We Care?
Naturally we all have areas we can improve, those weaknesses may shed a little light on our shadow but they never encompass the whole thing. Our shadow is much more than our shortcomings.
Our ‘shadow work’ is more about how, rather than what.
Most of us focus on whats - things we do or don’t do when addressing areas of improvement.
The how of our leadership is a little more personal and harder to accept criticism on. We do anything the way we do it for one of two reasons: either we’ve never intentionally thought about how we do it, we are still just copying how it was demonstrated to us or we’ve intentionally chosen the way we do it and feel it is the best way.
Both approaches are held in high esteem in our minds, neither readily open to change.
If we haven’t considered our approach, then we are typically very comfortable doing it the way we do it. And, as you know, comfort isn’t something we shrug off easily. ‘Shadow work’ is uncomfortable.
If we have intentionally chosen how we do it, then clearly we have a belief in that approach that will confront criticism with skepticism at best, full denial at worst.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
“Shadow work” as it pertains to leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s also not for transactional and dictator style leadership. It is for transformational leaders aspiring to be completely authentic and maximizes their impact on those they lead. Below are a few ideas on getting started on that process.
We all have shadows to work on. The sooner we figure out what they are and do the work to improve them, the sooner our impact on those we lead will expand.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.