The Shadow is the repository of what is deemed to be unacceptable and it is also the receptacle of the unacknowledged - those aspects of ourselves as individuals or organizations.
Change threatens the psychic balance systems seek between consciousness and unconsciousness and triggers reactions with which we experience and observe – anger, defensiveness, denial, inflexibility, etc. The more pressure applied to comply with change the stronger the reactivity and repression and the greater the build-up of shadow. This is one reason why seventy-five percent of change initiative fail! Coercion works short-term but long-term it fails. The disruption caused by change alerts the psyche that its comfortable level of homeostasis is endangered, and it will be on guard. What leaders can do to mitigate against this natural and universal tendency deserves another blog. To complete this series the focus on how the Shadow is also a catalyst for significant growth and development. It begins with acknowledging the reality of its existence and that embedded in it are unclaimed gifts.
Acknowledgement of the Shadow is an invitation for it to show up and to make itself a part of consciousness where it can be integrated and contribute to transformational change. It has the potential to reinvigorate a person, group, or culture when the leadership has the courage to embrace it. It then permits us to see qualities and characteristics that are now needed. It invites the development of higher coping skills and moves us into greater psychological maturity. Each episode of change that follows will be met with an increased level of adaptive competency in addressing the inevitable disruption and confusion that occurs whether the change is planned or unexpected. Engaging the Shadow is an opportunity to learn about individuals and systems. Making it conscious gives leaders an opportunity to ask questions that lead to insight and understanding that can liberate individuals and organizations from “business as usual.” Often it reveals underlying information and wisdom that will help them “think differently” about themselves. In one company during an excavation of their history they uncovered a previous time in which the organization’s courage during adversity helped it survive. In this moment they realized that part of their corporate identity is resilience in adversity and the desire to live up to their core values and principles was strengthened.
Engaging the Shadow is an opportunity to learn. It can be a valued co-partner when asked questions that lead to shared understanding.
Leaders are the architects of culture; according to Organizational expert, Edgar Schein, this is their chief responsibility! The most effective leaders become adept at ongoing cultural assessment and are aware of and attend to the conscious and the unconscious parts of an organization. This is the inner work of leadership and of organizations if they want to be healthy. The greater the leaders’ awareness of their own shadow and that of their organization, the greater their ability to access creativity and innovation; and the greater potential there will be to reach their ultimate vision while retaining the authenticity and integrity that develops trust – the essential element for healthy survival.
Katherine Tyler Scott is the Principal of Ki ThoughtBridge. She has more than 30 years of experience in leadership education and development, consultation, coaching and facilitation. Katherine is a nationally recognized speaker and has written extensively on the topics of leadership, trusteeship, organizational development, and change work.