Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Watching your own back: Watching your own shadow

I was reading the February addition of the Company Director Magazine and come across Green’s Piece “Watchdog has your back’ by John Green who is a leading company director and author.  His article highlighted the efforts of the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASCI) in launching 24 insider trading actions (most completed and most successful) since the global financial crisis (GFS). Green presented a number of high profile cases (Gupta, Lindskog and McDermott Jr) to demonstrate how these people, who had been respected and entrusted with confidential company information, had used this information inappropriately. In one case the judge described the consequences as “the functional equivalent of stabbing Goldman in the back”.

A key theme in all these cases was ‘trust’, a concept I have previously written about  and like Green, I think trust is as a key foundation to good leadership. What also struck me in reading ‘Greens Piece’ was how he has personally had some close brushes with insider trading because  people he trusted had done bad things.

In fact when Green used the saying ‘even when good people can seem to do bad things’ I was reminded of a really excellent book I have read by James Hollis 'Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves (2007). Hollis offers the reader a rich and diverse opportunity to explore our own shadow. A concept first articulated by Jung my interpretation of the shadow is ‘those parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable with ourselves’.
In leadership programs Anne Courtney and I run we use a quote from Parker J. Palmer 

“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell.  A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.” 
Self-reflection is crucial for leaders because you have the influence, power and capacity to cast your shadows on other people you work or live with.  Your shadow sides are the sides of yourself that are dysfunctional, unhealthy, under or over-developed.  You have a special responsibility to pay attention to yourself and use your leadership for positive effect.

I invite you to privately reflect on some points Palmer makes in 'Leading from Within' and note if anything stands out for you about potential shadows you need to pay attention to or shadows they you may have experienced from other leaders:

•    Are you insecure about you own identity and worth: do you try to prove yourself in the external world rather than wrestling with their own inner identity?  Leaders, then deprive other people of their identity;
•    Do you perceive the universe are essentially hostile to human interests and that life is fundamentally a battleground (inner fear of failing) it helps create situations where people have to live/work as if they are in a battle;
•    believe that you are ultimately responsible for everything and all  rests with you (you have to make it happen!).  This leads to dysfunctional behaviour including workaholism, burnout and broken relationships.  Instead we can learn to do only what we are gifted to do and to trust the rest to other hands.
•    Fear (especially of the natural chaos of life) and therefore creativity is stifled because it is controlled.
•    Denial of death.  Leaders demand that their people artificially maintain things that are no longer alive or may have never been alive.”

The invitation is to watch your own shadow, observe yourself. As your shadow is often hard to see, invite feedback from those around you. You are then able to be your own security system. For a conversation on the shadow side of leadership contact nicky@nickyhowe.com

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