The Power of the Shadow You Cast
How often do you think about the shadow that you cast on others? For me, it’s convenient for me to forget because I am an emotional person who wears my heart on my sleeve. If I thinking about the shadow I cast on others, I have to take responsibility for managing the impact I may be having. I’ll be honest, managing my shadow’s impact can be really hard for me.
Maybe you can relate to me. Maybe you are overly transparent and share everything. Maybe you share nothing. Either way, this blog is still for you. Whether you are allowing your very transparent mood or feelings about something send signals that are different than your word or you have no words at all, you are casting a shadow on others. And the thing about shadows, they affect others. The other thing about shadows, they are hard to manage. They are this thin transparent layer of who we are that is going to be projected on to others no matter what. We can’t control whether or not we have a shadow or whether or not others are affected by it. All we can control is whether or not our shadow brings people into our positivity or negativity.
I once nearly torpedoed a team change with my negative shadow. I was feeling specifically negative about a change in the company and rather than fight each day to remember that I am their leader, I let myself start wearing the negativity. I think I convinced myself that because I wasn’t using the words I was thinking that I was doing enough to cast the right shadow. What I forgot is that the shadow we cast is as much about our physical presence, energy and mood as it is the words we use. I was using the right words, but my energy took a dive. I was carrying around so much negativity and doubt that it became visible in my energy. The team took notice. I am a high energy, positive and fun leader most of the time so when I was failing to show up as the leader they were accustomed to seeing, they took the queues and realized quickly that I was not onboard with the changes that was happening. Almost instantly, the team that normally handles change really well started to spiral. I was hearing more negativity than ever before. We were having more interpersonal dust ups, we felt misaligned and people who didn’t normally complain began to complain about very small details in the changes we were making.
Previously in my career, a mentor had warned me about how big my presence was. He was trying to teach me to be careful about how my shadow was pulling people down when I never intended to. It’s easy to forget in the moment or maybe it’s easy to ignore in the moment because we feel entitled to have our own feelings. Great leaders know that they are entitled to have feelings but they are not entitled to project those feelings onto others. It is a great privilege to be a leader that others willingly follow but privilege comes with great responsibility too. If people will follow you into the light, they will follow you into the dark at the same pace.
It took me months to realize how much my energy had derailed a change I had previously thought we would manage through just fine even if I didn’t like it. I had to work twice as hard to lead through the change because instead of just pulling the team through a change, I had to pull them out of their negative feelings towards the change before we could even start. In reflecting on this incident, I am confident that I was the root cause of the difficulty we experienced during this time. I learned some really hard leadership lessons about my shadow once again. I had really been intention about being careful with my words, but not with my physical energy.
Some days I feel resentful of my shadow. I wish I could be less careful than I have to be. On those days, I try to remind myself that I am choosing leadership every day and understanding and managing my shadow is a part of the job. It’s what I am paid to do. It’s the technical expertise I must possess even though it is hard to learn. Are you resentful of your shadow at times? Are you actively managing it? How can you remind yourself of the privilege of being able to impact others?
Think about the shadow you cast on the people you interact with or lead. Write down 5 nonverbal cues that you send when you are feeling negative and 5 nonverbal cues that you send when you are feeling positive. When you are going through transition with people in your life, pull this list out and remind yourself every morning of the shadow you might cast that day. Read the list to yourself because your brain will register the cues and allow you to realize when you are doing them during the day.