Discussing about leader’s shadow in business may seem weird since we tend to talk about becoming a great leader but we forget that to be great you have to make some effort. At the same time, spirituality is an unusual topic for a business blog but I realized that separating business and spirituality makes no sense. I believe that we cannot cut off a part of ourselves in the workplace because when we do, we unconsciously engender negative patterns & behavior. We end up hurting ourselves and others when we are not aligned to our true self. We take decisions led by our ego which makes us less sensitive to others’ well being. Spiritual growth is accepting our light and our shadow in order to understand what we need to evolve.
Workplaces are great for an individual and group’s growth, if you take a stand for growth. There we face our fears, desires and other individuals in pursuit of happiness. No one is in pursuit of creating pain, on the contrary, we aim to avoid it. We all have a part of light and a part of shadow. In other words, we developed constructive and destructive behavior in order to avoid pain.
Be the change
There are many books about how to become a good leader but few about how to illuminate your shadow in order to grow. A skill or behavior can be nonexistent, existent or overused. FYI For your Improvement is a great guide for development and coaching which list skills that can be developed.
No one needs to develop every skills or show the best behavior to be successful at work. Luckily, we cooperate with other peolple who do have complementary skills and behavior.
Most importantly, I want you to focus on the skills and behavior that you want to develop. Then share them with others. When you grow, the world grows with you. When you change, the world changes too.
I want you to become more of yourself (that is a perfect book title, isn’t it). In fact, I want you to be happy. I want you to realize that so many things are not in your control except yourself. You cannot ask the world to change if you are not ready to change yourself.
Understand your shadow to avoid pain
The shadow is made of our negative habits, beliefs and behavior. It is sometimes an unconscious reaction that has negative consequences for us. The shadow is the part of our personality we are not really proud of. So we try to hide. It is us engaging in dangerous behavior or being aggressive in certain situation.
I have always tried to improve myself which made me read, experiment and listen to many different type of methods and schools of thought. My life’s needs are for growth and contribution. I want to share with you things I have learned about growth. I am looking for ways to improve myself and help others on their own growth path. It is hard to see our shadow because we hide it or avoid looking at it.
Let’s compare growth to software development. I know it sounds a bit weird but bear with me. I want to evolve from Version 1.0 to version 1.1 in order to develop toward the version 4.0 (or higher). If change (growth) was easy and improving yourself was a game, many of us would be illuminated, but is not. At the same time, I thought for a very long time that I had to work very hard on myself to become a better person but it made me, in some aspect of my life, more rigid. I understood in the last 3 and half years what it really means to face your shadow.
I studied organizational development, which has a lot to do with change management because I am fascinated by societal and personal changes. Coming to Germany without speaking the language at all forced me to put this knowledge to practice. I faced many of my beliefs as I did every time I went abroad. I realized how discreet our belief system can be but at the same time how strong it influences our way of life.
Our physical emotions are the shadows’ voices
My evolution was difficult because I did not accept to be in version 1.5 only. I wanted to be in a higher version, I wanted to go to 2.0. Pain melts away when I consciously decided to be in the present. That means learning to connect with my emotional side and body to guide myself toward the “happy” spot.
Our bodies are wonderful alarm systems capable of letting you know when something is wrong or good. When you feel upset or have back pain, it means something has to change. We use trans-figurative language to explain our pain. “I have a lot on my plate”, “You are a pain in the ass”, We (you and I) have a tendency to separate the brain and the body, the mind and the feeling. This disconnection is the reason why we feel pain for a very long time.
The alarm system goes on, we do not listen to it, we try to dampen the sound, we distract ourselves. The alarm system goes stronger and stronger and at some point the pain is so big that we decide to take action. We then rush. We pull out the plug but the alarms have batteries, then other alarms start switching on. We are in a cacophony. We do not know what went wrong. We need to pause, listen and switch off the easiest alarm and the next one and then the next, etc.
We need to learn how to act when the first alarm goes off in order to avoid pain. We need to connect with our present with our body and our mind. This is probably the hardest thing to do as we are used to be on automatic most of the time—but we can do it.
Ask for help to see your shadow
You are not alone. You can always ask for help. In fact, you should ask for help. I have a few friends with whom I can openly confide about my “shadow”. They give me ideas on things I could try to ease my pain or to be in the present. They help me see things I cannot see because I am in the middle of the storm. During the good times, they support my growth and creativity. They are companions that I also help when they face their own storm. We do not dictate to each other what to do. We merely ask questions. We explore possibilities.
As leaders you also need help in your daily business because your leader’s shadow shows up at work too. Most of the time, we work and face situations where we feel negative emotions. We are not able to process them and would need external support to be able to grow. There are fabulous consultants and psychologists who will help you in your evolution path by understanding and accepting you. You just need to find a good person you resonate with.
How can I learn from my shadow?
You can start the transformation process on your own. Here is the one thing I found that worked for me and other people I have been working with.
The first phase focuses on looking at what makes you feel uncomfortable when you have negative thoughts or feelings. Which alarm system is switched on? Is it an emotional rush that you cannot control or a physical pain?
• Understand your needs & the timing
The second phase aims to understand why you are feeling the physical or psychological pain. What needs are not met? Tony Robbins describes 6 human needs that all human have: (Certainty/Comfort, Uncertainty/Variety, Significance, Love & connection, Growth, Contribution). We are usually driven by two main needs.
Identify “when” the pain appears. Are you alone or with people? What is going on in your mind? What triggers you?
• Reveal your secondary gains
You engage in a behavior that is bringing up pain in your life because you could extract secondary gain from them. A secondary gain is a positive consequence of a negative behavior or habit. For example, one could always be sad because it makes them feel significant when someone takes care of them. It is really important to reveal those secondary gains otherwise you won’t be able to go to the next phase.
• Find alternatives
Now that you identified your needs, the timing, and the secondary gains you can try to find alternatives to fulfill your need without falling for the advantages of the secondary gain.
I used to bite my nails since I was a child. No one I knew ever saw me with nails. I went through the phase one and two of this process many, many, many times. I stopped biting my nails when I understood that it gave me a feeling of control and eased my stress. Those where my secondary gains. It happened when I felt bored in a group discussion, stressed about work and my performance.
In order to fulfill my need for control and to feel less stress, I tried different alternatives. By that time, I knew when I was more inclined to bite my nails. I decided to use mindfulness and non-violent communication exercises during those moments. I had the following simple process. 1. Be aware of your emotional state 2. Take a deep breath 3. Engage my hand with some other activities (massaging and scratching my hand or head which is so much more pleasurable with nails )
• Do it progressively
I did not succeed the first few times. Each occasion became a possibility to train my new behavior. In the beginning, I would succeed at being aware of my emotional state, then when I take a deep breath and then when I bite my nails. I celebrated the small steps I took even if I was still biting my nails. I was conscious. Each time I was able to move ahead, it made me proud. Now I have wonderful nails.
We can all learn from our shadow but to do so we have to be ready to look at it and understand its origin. You do not have to do it on your own. You are free to contact me if you need guidance and feel comfortable with me helping you.