This article is part of The Ascender, the Highrise platform for articles and resources.

What is Leadership Shadow And How To Improve it?

Andrew Langat
January 30, 2023
Read our case studies document and learn how Highrise helped other individuals to improve their professionnal skills and careers.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

All leaders cast a shadow. The question is whether yours is blocking the sun or inspiring others with its silhouette to strive for more." - Brad Smith.

Leadership is the art of influence. Just like the sun casts its shadow on a bright sunny day, a leader's shadow positive and negative is felt across the breadth of an organization, even when they are not there physically.

Think of Steve Jobs's legacy of innovation or Martin Luther's influence on non-violence in advocating for causes.

As a leader, your influence in leadership directly impacts an organization's culture, employee motivation, and morale. Thus, it is important to have a deep understanding of what a leadership shadow is and how leadership gives one an unconscious influence across the entire organisation.

For example, what might appear like a harmless joke about an employee's conduct might be misconstrued as a rebuke or a performance review.

<div id="one">

What is a Leadership shadow?

Leadership shadow refers to the unconscious aspects of a leader's personality that influence their behavior and decision-making. It includes leadership traits, habits, and tendencies often hidden from the leader's self-awareness that impact their leadership style.

This term was first used by Goldman Sachs, arguing that leaders cast their shadow from the top and need to understand this for effective leadership.

For many leaders, recognizing and acknowledging their own leadership shadow can be challenging, as it requires self-reflection and the willingness to confront difficult aspects of one's personality and learn the correct leadership behaviors.

However, it is an important step in personal and professional growth as a leader, as it allows for greater self-awareness and the ability to make more mindful and effective decisions. This can be enhanced through initiatives such as Executive coaching for leadership development programs.

<div id="two">

The Leadership Shadow Model

The leadership shadow model enables leaders to implement their own shadow across a team or organization. It is divided into four elements:

  • What You Say and how you communicate it: This refers to how you convey your message - both verbal and non-verbal.
  • How You Act: how you act in your team -both positive and negative behaviors. Remember that actions tend to speak louder than words, and your employees will likely take clues from your behavior.
  • What You Prioritize: refers to what you prioritize in your organization. For example, do you prioritize honesty? Do you prioritize your employees' welfare? What meetings are prioritized? Where do you spend time on?
  • How You Measure: what do you choose to reward, get feedback, or emphasize accountability? Is it a particular behavior?

<div id="three">

What's the Role of a Leadership Shadow?

A leadership shadow enables a leader to model desired behavior in an organisation. For example, if your goal is to ensure timeliness, make it a point always to arrive to work on time or meet set deadlines. For best results, ensure that you are consistent and accountable.

Employees are likely to follow what they see the leader doing more than what they say. This way, your own shadow models desired behavior.

<div id="four">

How does a Leader improve on their Leadership shadow?

Developing the right leadership shadow can take time and effort, but it can be a rewarding process that can help you become more effective and confident in your leadership role. Here are some steps you can take to improve your leadership shadow:

  1. Assess your current leadership style: Consider what has worked well for you in the past and what areas you might want to improve on. Ask yourself the following questions: has my leadership style resulted in desired results? What specific actions boost my team morale? What areas of leadership skills do I need to improve on leadership effectiveness?
  2. Ask for honest feedback: Ask for feedback from your employees, colleagues, or a mentor to understand how others perceive your leadership style and where you might have room for improvement. Actionable feedback will enable you to identify areas of improvement. One effective tool for getting the right feedback is the 360- degree feedback for peers and managers.
  3. Improve communication skills: When you improve your communication as a leader, you bring clarity when passing your message. Some ways towards this include active listening, being clear and concise, adapting your communication style, avoiding filler words, asking open-ended questions, and giving constructive feedback.
  4. Set clear goals and expectations: When you set clear expectations, you will manage expectations better. This makes everyone accountable and ensures everyone is working towards the same objectives. When setting goals and expectations, ensure that you lead from the front so your own leadership shadow gets projected.
  5. Create a positive work environment: A positive work environment enhances psychological safety at all levels of the organization. When team members know you focus on fostering such an environment, they will identify with your leadership shadow.
  6. Stay updated on the latest developments: To stay ahead of the curve, keep abreast of the latest industry developments and trends. This enables you to stay informed and lead your team effectively. This entails constant learning, restrategizing, and eliminating old unproductive habits. This way, you act as a role model in enhancing your leadership shadow.
  7. Seek leadership development opportunities: Consider taking courses, attending workshops, or finding a mentor to help you develop your leadership skills. This will help you identify leadership symbols and how they impact leadership.

Want to read more from us? Subscribe to our newsletter to read our latest resources

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

<div id="five">

What are the Qualities of a Shadow Leader?

Being a shadow leader means having a considerable impact. Their words or actions greatly affect employees, the organization's culture, or the teams they lead. Effective shadow leaders have the following qualities.

  • They are Charismatic: Shadow leaders may be highly charismatic and able to engage and persuade others with their words and actions. Such leaders show the following traits: adaptability, passion, and persuasion.
  • Confident: Shadow leaders may exude confidence and self-assurance, which can inspire others to follow their lead.
  • Influential: Shadow leaders are often able to influence the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of others, even if they do not hold a formal leadership position.
  • Strategic: Shadow leaders may have a strong ability to strategize, plan, and use their influence and power to achieve their goals.
  • Adaptable: Shadow leaders may be flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances, using their influence and power to navigate challenges and maintain their influence.
  • Persistent: Shadow leaders may be tenacious and persistent in pursuing their goals, using their influence and power to overcome obstacles and achieve their objectives.
  • Flexible: One positive managerial trait is flexibility and adaptability. Excellent managers can adjust goals and plans based on unexpected occurrences, new information, or other changes out of their control. They also make thorough preparations to predict potential changes in the future.
  • Kind: Being kind is an important part of being a superb manager. This involves showing basic decency, courtesy, and professionalism when communicating and acting in the workplace. Skilled managers can make employees feel happy when interacting with them.
Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

<div id="six">


Do you need to learn more about leadership shadow and how it can enhance your chances of success in your organization?

At Highrise, we have leadership coaches with over twenty years experience to guide you in creating a personal brand that will help build the right culture in your organization.

Reach out for free consultation on how to get started.

Thank you! Your Downloads is here:
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Andrew Langat
Facebook logoTwitter logo
Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.