Where Is Your Shadow Leading?

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Are you acting out of fear of what may be or about what possibilities excite you?

It may start with how you look at and apply the learning from your shadow. In Episode 101 we explore how your shadow contains those aspects of yourself you want hidden or protected. You may want to hide things about yourself that you think are unattractive or strange or maybe you use your shadow to protect that which is most precious and vulnerable. What’s in your shadow is not necessarily what makes you weak or even related to where you are less inclined or skilled.  When you focus on what is in your shadow, you may strike gold. If you are new at examining your shadow start by tracing back from your reactions and you just may find the shadow that triggered that reaction. The personal insight will offer new and sometimes surprising self-awareness; the kind that may help you move toward exactly where you want to be.

In episode 99 and the corresponding post – Motivation Spilling Out of Your Shadow, I shared a few of the common shadow reactions I’ve observed in clients and in myself, including: the need to be in control, the need to be safe, the need to be right, the need to be liked. I encouraged you to look for your patterns in prep for this week so consider what came to mind as you continue reading.

I shared two ways to be motivated by what you find in Episode 99 and today, in Episode 101, we examined from both of these angles: push motivation through the story of Rhoda and pull motivation through my experience with another client we’ll call Dana.

Shadow exploration of any kind, for many of you, will feel like a push. Why? Because we default to fear and self-protection. It’s the way of the primitive brain.  Whether it’s based on something in yourself you don’t like people to see, or a soft spot in your department you like to avoid examining too closely, or an obvious challenge revealed in your organization’s financial indicators you just don’t want to accept, the reason you fear rather than tackle it, is tied to your shadow. If you don’t remember the details of Rhoda’s story you can go back and listen to Episode 91, although I expand on her story in the subsequent episodes so you can dig more deeply.

Rhoda was, at least initially driven by push motivation. Her fear was provoked when realizing she could dramatically fail in this big new opportunity so she found herself scrambling to take control without realizing how her shadow was driving her. She became controlling and secretive and distrustful, without realizing the consequences of leaning into her shadow in this way.

Only later, as you will see, when Rhoda started to examine her reactions and connect the dots back to her shadow fears, was she able to shift her attention onto what she really wanted – what was worthy of aspiration and vision. When she was able to lead from this place she was able to inspire with authenticity and draw her team in, motivating them to reach higher and survive all obstacles together on their way to where they wanted to go.

Rhoda eventually shifted from push to pull, finding a way to approach her relationships and her efforts by examining the opportunities rather than reacting to the fear and she realized that where she focused her attention would determine where she, and her team would ultimately go.

Your choice: examine your collective shadow from the feared problem or look for the big opportunity. Find what attracts you – an aspirational goal, realizing there are times push is going to appear, usually in those instances when you’ve allowed situations to get to the extreme or you inherit a crisis as Rhoda did.

The difference may be in what you open yourself up to see or how you see it. You know perspective can shift dramatically based on how you add light. As a leader, how does your motivation (consider your team here too) change depending on perspective? What’s one small thing you can do today to shift the light and see a new perspective and thereby open up possibilities?

I find some of my clients shut down creatively; they see very limited options when they focus on what’s pushing them. When you are motivated to stay out of danger whether it’s an impending financial jam or a competitor snapping at your heels or the potential loss of a very talented member of the team, maybe it’s your fear and the fact your amygdala was triggered, that clouds your ability to see options. What do you do to shift your perspective?

If this is your pattern, and while it’s a common one with some variations, you will benefit from learning to focus your attention differently.

On to Dana’s story – Dana bought a business and was overwhelmed by what she learned when she shined the light on a few aspects. Dana made the decision to hedge her bets and stay working part-time for someone else limiting her time in her own business. I remember when she hired me she was quite clear about the fact that she didn’t want to leave the other work. She had no desire to conquer her fear so while she kept working hard and trying new things, she wasn’t fully committed to her business.

I got to know Dana and her business and after building trust and ease in our relationship, I decided it was time to firmly challenge her commitment. By this time, I knew some of the underlying shadow issues. I told her about the Dana I remembered from our exploratory conversation and the passion and vision she had communicated.  I reminded her of the picture she had painted of where she wanted to be and what had prompted her to buy this particular business rather than starting from scratch.

It didn’t happen overnight. We had to dig deeply into the shadow for a few conversations to develop a foundation. Only when we moved into Pull mode, focusing our energy on where she wanted to be, rather than the pain she was avoiding, did her big dream come out of the shadow into bright sunshine. Like many of us, she had kept it there because it was safer to keep it locked away; that way she couldn’t fail to achieve it since she wasn’t even trying. Now with the light brightly shining on it and her energy renewed, she was ready to move toward it. We started co-creating experiments to move her and her business forward.

Earlier I talked about the importance of knowing the reaction of your direct reports too. What motivates them to action? Get curious and build deep relationships with them so you can fully engage them in your journey. Once you are in pull mode, how do you bring them along if you don’t know them and what excites them? Remember we talked about motivation in Episode 084 in February and the connection to belonging. While motivation is broader than belonging, when you are exploring the collective shadow, it has broader impacts.

Next time: we’ll examine thinking, processing and a few of the possible problems when leaders get stuck in polarized possibilities.

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