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Many people, including many coaching clients with whom I’ve worked, seem unaware of the "shadow" they cast as a leader. Their shadow reflects what they deem important, how they respond to crises, deal with a disagreement, treat those around them, and behave in general.  Whether they realize it or not, all of this feeds into the cultural fabric of the organization.

As I’ve observed, if a leader treats every unanticipated roadblock as a major crisis, so will his or her employees.  If a leader takes the view that every problem could have been avoided and therefore when something goes wrong, "Heads will roll!" the resultant behavior will be one of blame and finger-pointing.  However, if a leader views mistakes as a natural part of learning, exploring, experimenting, and growing, then the result is an attitude that supports risk taking and innovation.

Not too long ago I worked with the head of an engineering organization who reported to the CEO of a medium-sized software company.  As a part of assessing her leadership style, I interviewed a cross-section of her direct reports and peers as well as a sample of key customers.  One of the most significant behaviors that surfaced was her inability to filter negative messages.  For example, when the CEO met with her to talk about his concern regarding delivery dates or process interruptions, for example, she would immediately call a meeting of her responsible staff members and chew them out under the guise of identifying the root causes of the problems.  She had no idea that her behavior was then being modeled by most of her direct reports and the managers that work for them throughout the organization.  Once identified as a development need, we worked together to help her be better able to filter emotional messages before acting…a fundamental trait of effective leadership.

Beyond actions, the cultures of organization are shaped through the stories that leaders tell as well as the stories that are told about them.  The stories that leaders tell help to inform employees about what leadership considers important.  Consider the following example.

One story that I’ve told many times involves a new VP of Sales who had just relocated back to the U.S. as an expatriate.  He held a regional sales review meeting where each manager was expected to present their sales forecast, where they stood against plan, and the supporting rationale.  After hearing one presentation and the beginning of a second where the managers complained about their products and lamented their lack of technology and the robust product capabilities of their competitors, he stopped the meeting.  He got up and moved deliberately to the front of the room in what seemed like a scene from the movie Patton.  He then said, "I didn’t come here to listen to excuses about why you can’t sell because you believe the competition has better products, technology or whatever. What I do expect to hear is how your commitment and strategy to sell our company’s products is producing results.  After that, I’m open to discussing what we can all do to improve.  For those of you who may not have heard or understood what I just said, let me reiterate. We all get paid to sell the products and services of this company and it requires everyone’s commitment to be successful. You have a choice to make, which I expect to see at the reschedule date of this meeting." That situation helped change the dynamic of the sales team and it became part of the folklore that helped shape the future culture of that company. 

A critical element of the leadership shadow is the "Say-Do" factor.  It has to do with having the courage of your convictions.  Essentially, if you say you are going to do something but act differently when it’s not politically correct or represents a risk to you or your position, you put your credibility at risk as a leader and create doubts about what the company stands for.  A recent situation that exemplifies the "Say-Do" factor is when Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots didn’t allow one of his star players, Wes Welker, to start in a critical playoff game against the New York Jets because of comments Welker made during a news conference regarding the Jets coach.  Whether you agree with how he handled this situation or if you like Belichick or not, you have to admit it takes courage to maintain a high Say-Do factor.  

So examine the Leadership Shadow you cast and see if it is appropriate for you and your organization.


"We can’t solve the problems of today using the same

  Thinking we used to create them."

 ~ Albert Einstein


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