What Leadership Shadow Do You Cast?

On Purpose leaders must own and lead the behaviors that shape the culture of an organization.  They’re accountable for creating the experiences of employees, customers, and the communities they serve.  This is the badge of honor that comes with being a leader.  The reality is that organizations become “Shadows of their Leaders.”

It’s a heavy burden to consider for people who want to be leaders. They have to navigate shifting landscapes, changing markets, a demanding workforce, and expectations of boards and outside constituents. It is a bit of a cliché to say that they must “adapt and overcome,” but that is one of many sayings that are simply realities that have proven themselves over time.

After Goodyear Tire lost money in 1990 (the first time in 60 years), the board persuaded Stan Gault, a member of the Goodyear Board of Directors and former CEO of Rubbermaid, to come out of retirement and replace Goodyear’s current CEO. When Gault arrived, he began to unplug lights and unscrew light bulbs in the former CEO’s large office to reduce costs. He ate in the company cafeteria with the rest of the employees and got rid of executive parking spaces.

The word spread like wildfire among Goodyear employees that Gault believed “thrift is a virtue.” When Gault then asked all Goodyear employees to help reduce the company’s bloated costs, they already knew their leader walked the talk.  Goodyear employees responded to Gault’s integrity and plea to reduce costs. As a result, the company paid down its debt and invested in new research and development. Soon thereafter, Goodyear launched the newly developed “Aquatred Tire.” It was a huge success and Goodyear was restored to profitability.

What Is Your Shadow Saying About You?

As leaders, we all have a shadow that we cast over others in the organization that is either positive or negative. The key question you need to ask yourself is, “What is your shadow saying about you?”

A leader’s shadow can strengthen a company’s culture and the engagement and commitment of its employees. In March 2020, when retail outlets were initially forced to close their doors because of the COVID19 pandemic, Tim Boyle, president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Company, cut his salary to $10,000 a year while Columbia retail employees still received their regular pay. His pay cut helped to keep almost 3,500 retail employees compensated during that time of uncertainty. In addition to Boyle’s own pay cut, 10 top executives voluntarily took a 15 percent pay reduction.

That’s the shadow of a leader. It’s someone who acts—someone who doesn’t just talk about the values but lives the values. With this mindset, you gain the respect of others; even those who disagree will hold you in higher esteem for your convictions.

One of the more important aspects of the Shadow of a Leader is that people will watch and follow you. Sometimes they won’t even be aware of what they are doing. Your attitudes and behaviors become their attitudes and behaviors.

The best examples of this mirroring are found in our personal lives. Sons and daughters watch and emulate their fathers and mothers—the most influential people in their young lives. This brings to mind the song, Boy, by American singer-songwriter Lee Brice who sings about his son who is going to be great because he does what his dad does.

Boy, you’re gonna know it all. You’ll think you’re ten feet tall… You’re gonna drop the ball. Hit the wall… I know you will, ’cause you’re a part of me. And a part of you will always be a boy.

We believe leaders are like dads and moms. People watch them and follow them. They want to make their boss happy with how they’re performing. They’ll mimic how their leaders behave, because if they do that, they know that they’re probably going to connect with their leaders and be viewed favorably.

We’ve met leaders and up-coming leaders who, upon learning about the influence of their shadow, will shy away from assuming the burden or deny their influence altogether. Basketball legend, Charles Barkley, once boldly declared to the media that he was not a role model and that kids should be taught to emulate their parents, not athletes or celebrities.

Reality Check

The reality is that if you’re in a position of influence, people are going to emulate you whether you want them to or not. Leaders are role models, and we believe that if you’re going to be a leader, you need to be one who leads On Purpose. You need to become the model of behavior that others will trust, emulate, and follow. It’s then a matter of what you want your shadow to reflect.

As you reflect on your leadership shadow, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. What shadow does your leadership style cast on others?
  2. How consistent are you at making and meeting your commitments to others?

Think back to some of the recent choices you have made.  What could you have done differently?

In our book, Leadership ON PURPOSE, we provide rationale and a roadmap, tips and techniques for developing the six attributes of agile leaders that you and your leaders will need to attract, inspire and retain the best talent. Learn more here