Managing Organizational Shadow

March 18, 2020 By Katherine Tyler Scott

Part III

Many executives have been derailed by organizational shadow because in assuming the leadership role they accepted the responsibility of changing things without taking enough time to learn about the organization’s history and culture. They eventually learn that culture will, as one colleague said, “eat strategy for lunch every time.” A “keep the lid on” or denial strategy in dealing with unresolved organizational conflicts and potentially divisive issues is just as ineffective. Rather than helping those within the culture acknowledge and confront such problems this contributes to the issues going underground; and over time these behaviors undermine the systems capability in dealing with future problems.

What can be done to counter issues undermining the capability to deal with future problems?

Here are just three things to start with:

  1. Know Your History

A lack of knowledge of history inevitably creates blind spots for leaders. Knowing what really matters to people and what is valued gives leaders an advantage when leading change and resolving conflict. History reveals the core values and character and provided guidance in how to frame and message change initiatives. Every employee should hear and know their organization’s story and the values that shape its identity and that drive behavior, performance and ultimate results. The story must be shared in multiple ways and many times over time. We have ways to do this that builds cohesiveness and shared understanding and shared meaning - all essential to dealing with complexity and change.

  1. Share the Authority and Leadership

In one organization the employees refused to provide their boss with what he needed to know to make the best decision about a major and costly initiative under consideration. When asked why they were keeping their thoughts and judgments from him, they

replied, “He already knows it all.” When we probed this response more deeply it revealed that the real issue was the top/down structure that appeared to value those in higher level positions but diminished the contributions of those at the lower levels.

The so called “subordinates” were the people essential to the success of the company but many felt devalued. The privilege and power of upper management had come to be perceived as entitlement and arrogance and served to reinforce the feeling of inferiority subordinates felt. The relationships between management and employees were not discussed because those who had raised concerns in the past had been labeled as “troublemakers”.

The CEO and upper management had characterized everyone as “members of the team,” but the perception of those they supervised was different. This gap was indicative of many feeling a lack of authority to be open and honest with those “over them.”  The more leaders can share and responsibly disperse authority throughout the system the more agile the organization can be in successfully implementing change.

  1. Equip People with Adaptive Skills

The optimum time to train employees to deal with issues of change and conflict is when there is not a crisis. This means the organization can be proactive and this level of education normative. However, we know that this is not the norm now and the work will be more challenging because of this reality. The organization’s understanding of change must include developing trust, communication and relationship as central aspects in the training. Agreements about the how not just the what will be in the training. We take time to build the emotional intelligence in a group or organization-these abilities are essential in addressing conflicts in an open and responsible way.

These are three things that an organization can do to diminish the negative potential of shadow.

What if the shadow also is the repository of some positive attributes? Find out in the next blog!

« Previous Post: Part II       Next Post: Part IV »