Thinking About Your Leadership Shadow

Casting a shadow. Thinking about the effects of leadership.
Casting a shadow. Thinking about the effects of leadership.

I attended a meeting today where an executive urged us to think about our “leadership shadow.” It’s a neat phrase. Got me thinking.

This exec went on and asked us to think about all of the people us business managers are responsible for. There are direct reports, of course, and then the direct reports of our direct reports, and so on. But what about their spouses and children or their parents? What about customers? What about departmental counterparts? And then there are future stakeholders to think about.

Ultimately thousands of people could stand in the leader’s shadow, or feel the ripple effect of a leader and his behavior, decisions, or more importantly, his character. This is a big thought, which made me stop and feel the weight of the responsibility that comes with my job.

But as I write this, the contrarian in me is thinking how can one person can really affect thousands of others? Maybe it’s a bit egotistical, arrogant, or prideful to think all of these people are actually moved by my greatness. Maybe leaders sometimes just get in the way of these thousands of people, or maybe it is the thousands who determine who the leader is and how he makes his decisions.

Both thoughts are valuable and relevant to my development as a leader. I am responsible, and I owe a lot of people good decisions, so they and their families can achieve today’s goals and tomorrow’s dreams. But I am humble and I know I am only one man, the same as all other men, and I recognize that it is Someone else who ultimately determines the fate of other people. I am glad I heard this phrase – leadership shadow.

And now I’m thinking, leave it to me to turn a benign comment made at a meeting of mattress sales managers into a meditation on free will and fatalism.

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