How many times in your life you were surprised by someone's opinion? You liked a move and someone unexpectedly considered it the most boring movie ever. You considered someone a poor performer and this person thought that he or she was the greatest computer programmer/accountant/recruiter/editor alive? You felt you had a productive conversation and were able to achieve consensus, and the opposite side thought you had an ugly argument and agreed with only because because it made no sense to argue anymore?
Whether the difference is significant or subtle, the most powerful knowledge you may have in a professional environment is being aware of the "shadow that you cast?". We got acquainted with the concept of the "shadow of the leader" via a values-based leadership development program at UnitedHealth Group based on the research by Senn Delaney described in the book "Winning Teams–Winning Cultures",
There are only three steps to this:
1. Define which "shadow you want to cast"
Start by making an effort to forget about titles, positions, day-to-day responsibilities, event reporting relationships. Concentrate on one topic: what is the shadow that you want to cast professionally? In other words, how do you want to be perceived by others in your organizations? What reputation would you like to have?
From this prospective, think of this latest promotion. Did you claim your team success as your personal achievement? Did you take ownership over a template your colleague created? Did you feel happy about achieving this promotion which was in part based on these two instances? What did it do to the shadow that you cast? Do your colleagues perceive you as successful? as their true leader? or as a backstabber who would do anything to achieve their selfish goals?
Hopefully, this does not apply to you. You have your shadow described now: you are knowledgeable, fair, positive, great collaborator; you are always positive and come across with solutions; trustworthy; you are creative and innovative, and of course, you are a strong leader and a "go-to" person. Let's print out this description and move to Step #2.
2. Check out your shadow
Now it's time to reconcile. There are two ways to do it, internal and external. First, you define which responses should your shadow elicit. For example, if you are innovative, you would be invited to participate in brainstorming groups, or in a hackathon - depending on your subject matter area. If you are well respected, people would come to you for your informal opinion. If they consider you trustworthy, they share confidential information with you. If you are a strong leader, they follow you. If you are positive, they ask for your suggestions.
If you see that in fact, you are not a highly sought meeting participant; if your opinion is not frequently solicited, if no one comes to you for advice, then there is a discrepancy with the shadow that you want to cast.
External validation is based on direct and indirect questions that you can ask to your colleagues. If you notice that you are frequently overlooked in meetings, ask your colleague: "What contribution do you think I can/could make to this conversation?" If you ask a closed (yes/no), question, follow it with a "why", e.g. "do you think I am a good team player?' "why do you think I am not?" "what can I do to become better?"
3. Shape your shadow
Now you have two most important data points: where you want to be and where you are now. The question is then how to bridge the gap, if any. In most cases you will notice that if not a significant difference, there are discrepancies in how you think about yourself and the shadow you are casting. What can you do about it?
The answer is very simple. Keep your shadow in mind and validate every decision, every professional move that you make with the shadow you want to project. Print out the description of your shadow and have it handy with you. Keep it on your mobile device. Make it a habit to use it as your moral compass.
Once you made a decision to shape your shadow and build the reputation that you deserve, create your journal of decisions that you have to make and the qualities that help you make them. Review this journal and align with the shadow you want to cast. This requires courage, discipline, and persistence, but trust me, your road to leadership is worth the effort.