Monday, December 31, 2012

Becoming Authentic Leaders: Coming to Terms with Our Shadows in the New Year

In the pursuit of 21st century leadership, there is much talk about authenticity. As Lama Surya Das writes, “Just as we are all born with innate luminosity, so too we are all born with a darker or shadow side.” In the interest of becoming authentic 21st century school leaders, it is vital that we come to terms with our shadows.

Just as often happens in our lives outside our leadership roles, we often find ourselves struggling with our own “shadow elements” in our many leadership roles. Our shadow side manifests throughout the day whether we know it or not. It appears in our “short-tempered response” to a question posed to us by our school receptionist. It shows itself in our immediate but angry response to a phone call from a parent. It rears its presence when we find ourselves chewing out a student for the 100th time about a dress code violation. In a word, our shadows reveal themselves at times of pressure and times of stress. Who we really are in these moments betrays us.

The truth is, we can’t rid ourselves of these shadows or shadow elements. If we do, as Lama Surya Das suggests, “Try to repress, suppress, and deny the shadow side of our own personality, and we run the risk of attracting these elements into our lives in other ways.” In other words, ignoring or otherwise dismissing these darker  parts of ourselves does not mean they go away. They simply show up in other ways, often at inopportune moments.

What then can we do to come to terms with these parts of ourselves in the interest of being authentic leaders? A strong enemy to authenticity is hypocrisy, and leaders often are models of hypocrisy because they don’t know themselves. “They are so concerned with persona and the images they present to the world that they choose to deny and repress rather that confront and handle their shadow conflicts." Being the kind of leader who is always concerned about your “presentation to the world” can lead to ignorance of our shadows, but there are ways to come to terms with these.

In the interest of the New Year reflections and resolutions, here’s two ways we can perhaps come to terms with our shadows in the interest of becoming an authentic leader.
  • Reflection and Meditation: Taking time as a school leader to reflect upon ourselves is vital. We can’t know ourselves if we haven’t taken the time to meet ourselves where we are. We can do this by finding quiet times during the day to both get in touch with who we are: our thoughts, feelings, etc.  Whether you choose to engage in some kind of formal meditation or simply sitting in contemplation with your morning coffee in hand with no other distractions really doesn't matter. What does matter is taking the time to meet yourself, each and every day. Finding quiet time is vital in coming to terms with our shadows. During this new year, making a commitment to find the time for reflection and meditation is important to fostering authentic leadership.
  • Enlisting Our Shadows as Allies: We can either make our shadows our “allies and teachers” or we can make them our assailants and opponents. Using our shadows as a means of learning and growing means once we know them, we can begin to allow them to teach us. Our shadows can tell us a great deal about our values and our beliefs. They can instruct us on things like self-discipline, patience, empathy, etc. Ultimately, as our shadows become our teachers, we find it much easier to become the authentic leaders that people prefer to follow. Making a commitment to enlist our shadows as allies is key step toward authentic leadership in the coming year.
The New Year is always a time of reflection and resolution. It’s possibilities and promise are comforting. This New Year, perhaps in our resolve to become more authentic leaders we can embrace and come to terms with our shadows as well. By giving ourselves time for reflection, meditation, and contemplation, as well as engaging our shadows as allies, we can take steps toward becoming who we really are and being the kind of leader others will follow.

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