Shadow Leaders are leaders in name only. They may have an impressive sounding title or hold a lofty position on an organizational chart but they exhibit few if any leadership characteristics.
They keep their head down, usually do solid work, and are relatively good followers but they stay in the shadows to hide from risk and they do not lead.
Risk involves making decisions, charting a new course, dealing with conflicts, or just trying new things. A Shadow Leader’s first priority is to protect their position and the income that comes with it.
Shadow Leaders focus on what is with little regard for the possibilities of what could be.
Shadow Leaders bring a larger than average expense to their organization for two reasons. First, their good work could be accomplished by someone without the lofty title and compensation. Second and this is worse, far worse actually, because they don’t lead they do nothing to develop the next generation of leaders within their organization.
Their lack of leadership negatively impacts their organization even after they are gone. They leave little behind except a leadership void and perhaps a few other Shadow Leaders who are simply modeling the behavior they saw.
Shadow Leaders aren’t bad people, they just make the all too common mistake of believing that their title or position is what makes them a leader. The fact is that their title or position only gives them a better chance to lead than someone without the fancy title and position.
True Authentic Leadership comes from a person’s disposition not their position. Authentic Leaders know that they can lead from anywhere in their organization, with or without a title and position. They know they can lead down, across and even up.
Authentic Leaders know what is but they see what could be. They limit their time investment in mere “things” so that they can invest the majority of their time in people. Authentic Leaders do not concern themselves with building more followers, they focus on building more leaders including the leader who will one day succeed them.
While Shadow Leaders are desperate to avoid conflict Authentic Leaders deal with it head-on. They do not let small problems become bigger ones through avoidance. Authentic Leaders do not like conflict more than anyone else but they do understand that when it is dealt with properly growth is almost always the end result.
Authentic Leaders have the courage to operate in broad daylight, with their actions, decisions, mistakes and limitations on display for everyone to see. They willingly risk looking bad in order to do something good.
Here’s the thing, when you’re an Authentic Leader everyone knows you’re leading. If you’re a Shadow Leader the only person who thinks you’re leading is you.
So if you’re in a leadership position you need to turn around once in a while to see who, if anyone, is following you. If no one is there it just might be that they can’t see you in the shadows.