THE LEADERSHIP SHADOW: THE VULNERABILITY OF BEING A LEADER
In today’s fast-paced, interconnected, and mercilessly competitive business world, senior executives have to push themselves and others hard. In order to succeed, leaders have to live the paradox of closely attending to and following others as much as they lead. They have to listen well to others, understand their concerns, give them personal support, and at the same time motivate them for results or take decisions on their behalf. It is precisely those leaders who can adapt to these conditions and who can develop a tough and relentless focus on competitive advantage who are most at risk of adopting unhelpful and ultimately unproductive patterns of demand, stubbornness, or frenetic activity. Instead of being open to possibility and ambiguity, willing to engage in creative conversations with themselves and others, these executives may instead become obstinate, resentful, inarticulate, or intense. Most ofen these are qualities executives have relied on to get them to the top and to achieve outstanding results, qualities that overshoot under stress and challenge, into unhelpful drives that lead to business and personal catastrophes. Hitherto high-performing executives suddenly find themselves facing the prospect of relationship breakdowns, strategic failures or the risks of derailment.
QUALITY ASSURANCE FOR LEADERS – HOW COACHES AND ORGANIZATION DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANTS CAN HELP
The shadow side plays a role in every form of leadership. Stepping forward to make a leadership gesture always creates a rift within oneself: a rift between one’s sunny, active, constructive, or aggressive side that holds the ambition to contribute, create and prove something; and one’s doubting, pessimistic, needy and vulnerable, or careful and concerned sides, which craves for connection with oneself and others. This shadow side is therefore part and parcel of leadership.
In order to make the bid for power or put forward one’s drive to achieve, other aspects have to be left behind, pushed back and discarded, somewhere in the dark of our experience, including our experience of self.
If leaders have a strong-willed, confrontational spouse, as well as assertive colleagues who remind them of their human fragility and fallibility, the leadership shadow can be processed so that it does not cause too many problems.
Unfortunately, many of our captains of industry and political leaders are not in such a well-balanced position. They are dedicated and even devoted to the job, they put in an exorbitant amount of time and effort, and they are rarely criticised or challenged by those near to them. Under such conditions, how will leaders remain fresh, balanced and inspired, to keep reflecting openly and self-critically alongside their own firmly held convictions?
I believe that this kind of challenging, outspoken and fresh scrutiny can be provided to leaders by organisation development consultants and executive coaches (if they are worth the considerable fees they are paid!) This can help remind them of their personal leadership shadows and of the fact that they do have (hidden) doubts, needs and vulnerabilities. They may not say so in public, but at some level they themselves know how intrinsically fragile their leadership is.
These coaches and consultants are able to spot or guess the shadow sides that leaders have forgotten or may prefer not to consider. It is the coach’s task to bring back awareness of vulnerability or neediness, corruptibility or hubris, depending on the personal contents of the leader’s shadow. Coaching restores balance and looks afer a leader’s ‘fitness to practise’ precisely by generating insight and inspiration around the leader’s most sensitive and vulnerable areas.
A form of leadership is now required in turn from the coach or consultant: namely to speak their honest, fearless truth to power and to reflect freely and independently alongside the leader and leadership questions of the day. The question presents itself: how do coaches remain fit for practice and make sure that they approach their clients with the requisite level of freshness and robustness? The answer to that question is: supervision.