How large is your shadow?

Updated: Mar 2

You are at an exciting crossroads when you reach the point where your leadership is not casting a shadow that prevents others from blooming.

Maybe it’s the age I have reached, but I find I appreciate nature more now than before. I am more inclined to notice and admire her ability to surprise me with subtle and obvious gestures when I go for a walk, drive around country roads or just sit quietly in the garden.

Being able to notice the minute details of the smallest flower hidden in a crevice, as well as the more obvious manifestations of nature’s work – the stately oak tree or the majestic mountain range – I now consider a gift, one of the many I have often taken for granted or missed when lost in thoughts or in my hurry to get from A to B.

This aspect of my life was brought home to me at a video conference peer group check-in last week when one of the participants put forward a metaphor for letting go of control. His analogy was that, like a large oak tree depriving other smaller trees around it of essential moisture and nutrients and the vital heat of the sun, a powerful leader can stifle the growth of those closest to him or her.

Noticing the hidden gems of human nature

He shared a story which resonated with me and the others in the video meeting. He had returned from a business trip abroad just in time for the lockdown and had gone straight into a management meeting, already in progress. He noticed a new concentration and focus in their conversation and he decided not to get involved in the discussions. As the meeting progressed, he observed decisions being taken and responsibilities allocated for actions to deal with working during the lockdown, all without anybody referring to him.

Rather than feeling left out he felt satisfaction and freedom. This was something he had been advocating and now he was seeing it with his own eyes. He realised that there had probably been many previous almost imperceptible examples of team members stepping up to take responsibility, but he had not noticed them. This is when I thought of the little flower in the crevice that I had often rushed past.

The incident gave the participant a glimpse of the importance of the philosophy of the parent company. When they’d taken over this business, they had used the story of the oak tree to convey the importance of developing all the employees. And so it had come to pass, not by accident, but because it was engrained in the company’s values, and in the core belief of our friend, the leader.

Learning to share out the sunlight

Coming back to that oak tree analogy, I realised that in my own case it was never my intention to overshadow others, but my desire to help often had the unintended consequence of depriving others of discovering their own wisdom. I must also admit that I did enjoy getting the lion’s share of the sunlight!

That particular peer-to-peer check-in was a very rich one – there is a lot more in it and I plan to draw on it for my next blog too.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy noticing and appreciating how well you are currently developing those around you.

Kind regards

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