Casting A Leadership Shadow

Do you remember making shadow puppets growing up? Shadow puppets were created when you contorted your fingers and hands into specific shapes. You’d do all of this in front of a light. If you had your hands in the right positions, you could fascinate your friends with the creatures you could make.

Shadow Puppet Master

Image By Tom Check

Shadow puppets were always interesting to me. They’d allow you to create an image without actually having the object. Sometimes you’d make a dog or a bat or a bird. The options seemed limitless.

It was an illusion of the light and darkness. What was there wasn’t and what wasn’t really there was. What you saw was determined by what you were looking at.

I was reminded of this as I took my dog outside. With a flashlight in had, I walked him to the backyard. The flashlight hit Zane, my dog, at just the right angle. His shadow made him appear enormous. About 3 times his normal size. The ears looked extra perky. His body shape looked dangerous.

When I moved the flashlight, the shadow changed. It looked almost normal.

Your Leadership Shadow

Different styles of leadership will cast a different shadow for others to see. What kind of shadow are you casting?

Are you angry and upset all the time? Your shadow will more than likely instill fear into others. They’ll be cautious and walk with trepidation.

Are you upbeat and positive? This shadow would be different. It’ll be inviting and others will want to be around it. Fear will leave the building.

Are you somewhere in-between? That’s okay. This is where most of us fall. Some days we’re not too happy and we scare others. Other days we’re happy as can be.

We need to be aware that our actions and words are creating shadows that are affecting those we lead. We make the choice on how we behave and how we react. We’re creating different shadows with every action we take.

You need to learn to be a leadership shadow puppet master.

Learning To Control Your Leadership Shadow

There were always those people who were great at creating amazing shadow puppets. They could pull off any shape or animal you’d throw at them. You were mesmerized.

Lots of practice went into gaining the skill to cast the shadows in the ways they did. They sacrificed time and effort so they could create shadows that would entertain.

Just like the shadow puppet masters, you can learn to control the shadows your leadership style leaves. If you’re a wise leader, you’ll be willing to make changes so that you leave a legacy others will want to remember.

There are simple steps you can take to change your shadow. You may try

  • Smiling while addressing your team
  • Complimenting others on a job well done
  • Uplifting someone who made a mistake
  • Admitting when you’ve made an error
  • Be friendly

As you tweak little actions in your life, your leadership shadow will begin to change. Just like when you move a flashlight during a shadow puppet show. Make the changes necessary so you can be a leader others want to follow.

Question: What changes could you make to cast a better leadership shadow? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Piggybacking on your reminders to be friendly and smile, one of the biggest changes I made and continue to work on at work and in my home is to:

    Enter with enthusiasm.

    When I enter the office, it should be “Hey, I am here. Let’s do this.” Not in an egotistical, “OK now that I am here, the party can begin” way, but in a manner that shows that I am excited, optimistic, and happy to be here and glad to see all of you.

    The same for entering the home. No matter how exhausted I am, those first two minutes are so important. I must express that this is the best part of the last eight-plus hours. I am excited to see my family and can’t wait to hug and kiss them.

    After those two minutes, if I want to sulk and moan about my day, fine. But I rarely do. Forcing myself to have enthusiasm usually lifts me so high, that even if I come down, I am still a decent person to be around.

    • I’d also add the Thank You Thursday Revolution to the list of ways we as leaders can cast a better shadow.  Matt McWilliams is leading a great movement of expressing gratitude to those around us.

      • I find it hard to argue with your suggestion Jon. 🙂

        Thank you.

        • No problem.  It’s amazing how many areas the TYR touches.

    • Matt, you make a great point. When we’re in the right mindset and enter into the situations we face, there’s a world of difference. Glad you’ve found a way that works wonders for you!

  • DS

    I think being a genuine person, and genuinely interested in people goes a long way on the shadow you cast.  Be you.  Be open and honest.  Look for ways to serve others.  People value transparency.

    • That it does DS. People want to follow leaders who are open and interested.

    •  I totally agree. People can spot a fake a mile way.

  •  Great post Joe, I like the five suggestions. Personally, I know i need to improve on point 2 and 3 🙂

    • Thanks Ngina! I’m with you on number 2 for sure. It’s a constant struggle. Any ideas on how you and I can improve upon these deficiencies?  

  • Think more about my non-verbals, which are more powerful than what I say a lot of the time. Also send more thank you notes, which do work!

    • Body language speaks volumes. Work on it and you’ll see improvement!

    •  I agree, non-verbal signs are so important. Great point!

  • Smiling while you address someone is so important. I have recently started trying to smile first at a cashier or clerk when I’m in a store. I have noticed that our exchanges go much more smoothly than if I stay a little reserved. 

    • That’s awesome Tessa. Cashiers and clerks are just like you and me. They long for that interaction! 

  • You provided some awesome tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Brandon. What others would you offer?

  • Leading with love is a great place to start.  I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Love Works by Joel Manby.

  • I know too many times I’m in my own world only focused on what I have to do. Reading this makes me realize the little things could make a big difference. 

    • It really is all about the small things Kimanzi. You’ve been doing a terrific job of working towards helping others. Keep it up!

  • KirraAntrobus

    Excellent metaphor.  Thank you.

    •  Thanks Kirra. How can you apply this to your life?

  • Great illustration Joe. I have to daily control myself so I’m casting a God shadow to the people around me. I think nonverbal body language is so important, our mind might be thinking positively but that wont matter if our body language is not reflecting it.   

    •  Thanks Dan. Good observation. People will not hear what we’re saying if they’re not seeing what we’re feeling.

    • DS

      Isn’t it amazing the shadows we can cast?  You both inspire me by challenging one another on self-awareness.

  • Growing up in a cult cast a huge negative leadership shadow on me.  It took me years to overcome my fears.  So as a creative individual, it’s my goal to use my work in a more subtle manner than manny leaders, but I also hope that this who stand in my leadership shadow might be blanketed with wisdom and comfort, rather than fear.

    • It’s sad you had to go through that experience but I’m sure it taught you more than you’ll ever know about leadership and life in general. Sometimes the most subtle shadow had the biggest impact.

  • I always come back to “E+R=O” (i.e. Events + RESPONSE = Outcome). The one thing I control in this equation is my RESPONSE. How I respond to challenges and opportunities determines what kind of leadership shadow I cast.

    • Awesome Kent. Thanks for sharing that. Response is everything.