Beware: The Shadow of the Leader Can Become the Shadow of the Gang

Wed, Oct 14, 2009

Shadow of the LeaderI once had a boss who used to tell our national sales force, “The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang.” In my work as an executive consultant, coach, and “detangler,” I have met some incredibly brilliant and talented leaders. All of them were exceptional in some way, and all had areas in need of development. I would amend my ex-boss’s statement to, “the shadow of the leader is the shadow of the gang.”

There is irrefutable research evidence that the most important determinant of leadership success is knowing both our strengths and our weaknesses. All of us are good at a handful of things. If we are lucky, we become aware of those strengths early in our careers. All of us also have areas of weakness, whether it is keeping up with details, thinking strategically, or emotional intelligence. Learning our weaknesses, or shadow side, early in our career is also a gift. When we fully know and grasp our shadow side, we can take active steps to ensure that our organizations are not crippled by our own shortcomings.

For instance, I worked with an executive many years ago who was perceived as unethical and lacking in integrity. When he received that feedback, he was flabbergasted. He had no idea that others saw him that way. Further, he found ways to discredit the data. Because of his shadow behaviors, his subordinates were afraid to share information with him. They also began to distrust each other. The group, which was responsible for ensuring that his company conformed to strict federal regulations, became completely dysfunctional.

The best time to learn strengths and weaknesses is early in one’s career. Being open to feedback, whether it is positive or negative, requires strong ego-strength and confidence. I often encounter executives who welcome both positive and constructive feedback. They see it as a way to continuously improve and grow.

As a professional detangler, I have seen firsthand how leaders who are not aware of their shadows inadvertently create leadership tangles. Lines of communication become crossed, and open and honest dialogue evades the organization. Leaders carry exceptional positional power. Employees who are two or more levels below in the organization do not question leadership requests, even if they don’t make sense.

What are you doing to avoid tangles? For a complimentary consultation, please contact me at

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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