NUGGET : Become increasingly aware of the “shadow” that goes with formal leadership roles.  It can derail your best leadership intentions – but also holds immense potential energy for leverage, learning and legacy!


It was 1958, my eighth grade year. I was part of the oldest group in the school. We had all looked forward to this time. Some of us, including me were asked to be on the school patrol. Wow! I was psyched – my first formal power role. Like others on the patrol, I was given a silver badge mounted on a thick brown belt that I wore diagonally across my chest and around my waist. Like others in the patrol I carried a flag to wave in front of traffic at our crossing-corners.But there was more.. with that badge and that flag, I temporarily stepped into another persona – one with

powers beyond my being as a freckle-faced 14 year old with a brace on her leg. In that role, I felt super-responsible, and, I must admit looking back, just a cut above the kids who depended on my guidance.

At the age of 14 I experienced one of my first lessons about the power of position: it carried an energy of its own.  This energy that goes with formal authority has been a major focus of my work for decades, and continues to both disturb and fascinate me.


We’d like to think that leadership is a rational process – something we can teach behaviorally and conceptually – according to a formula.  But once power differences enter the picture, all bets on rational solutions are off.  Actual and perceived power differences affect how everybody behaves, often replacing important and even shared goals of the business with defensive and self-optimizing maneuvers.  In psychological terms, the SHADOW is a constant factor when power is involved!


The shadow is the metaphorical place where we stow away potentialities and parts of ourselves, organizations, and society that we don’t want to acknowledge or are afraid to let loose.  We all have a shadow.  Like our shadow in the sun, this shadow always accompanies us (there is a reason that non-humans in literature – zombies, vampires walk in the sun without shadows!)  The shadow is part of our human condition – a vital part; no one is immune.


For people with formal authority, the shadow plays out on multiple stages.  Formal leaders carry their own personal shadow, but they also wear the mantle of their role – and that mantle comes with its own shadow side:  formal authority in one organization may imply command and control – thus marginalizing participation and relegating it to the shadow.  In another organization, formal authority may have a paternalistic flavor that relegates individual initiative to the shadows where it begins to express itself as blame and energy diverted to non-work ventures (shopping on the Internet?).


With all this in mind, some of my blogs will build on the messages in my just released book, The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders.  In future blogs I’ll explore the workings of the Shadow in our changing world of work.  Some guiding questions include:

1. How does the shadow operate in and around people who have formal authority – the supervisors, managers, executives, union leaders and others who make decisions that channel institutional resources and shape the direction of teams, organizations, and networks?

2. How do our shadows play out when we don’t have power of position?

3. How can we transform the shadow side of power so that its immense energy helps us create great outcomes, stimulate learning, leave a virtuous legacy, and live a more fulfilled life.

Along the way, I will share examples from practice, present insights from some of the great thinkers about power, and expose some of the many conundrums we face related to the distribution and use of power in today’s changing world of work.


I hope you will join me on this journey to bring the power-related shadows we carry into the light so that their immense energy can be used to build rather than destroy.


In the meantime, I would love your thoughts on this topic.  How do you see the shadow at work in the relationship between people with formal authority and those they lead? How important is it for people with authority to understand the workings of the shadow?  If it is important, how do we create a sense of urgency to both understand the shadow side and to turn its tremendous energy into something constructive for the people and organizations involved?  Let’s evolve the insights and answers together.

2 Replies to “Introducing the SHADOW Side of Power”

  1. Pingback: my view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *