A note before reading. Shadows can reflect both positive and negative aspects of leadership. Shadows used in this article reflect the darker or negative side found in LeaderManager behaviour.
In the article Workplace Culture I explored how the Shadow in the workplace affects workers and in Wellbeing under Spiritual Discoveries I linked the concept with our inner selves. This article explores the role of the leader or leadership team in removing the shadow.
LeaderManagers need courage to bring the shadow out into the open and give people reason to hope, but that hope needs to become reality for the shadow to be lifted. When LeaderManagers bring the shadow to light they cut through the stereotypes, biases, myths and tensions found within a given community or society. In the process they promote change, and that change often has repercussions.
From a socio-political perspective we see examples of the difficulty in speaking the ‘truth’ and the upheaval it generates. Take for example, the reactions Martin Luther King experienced in bringing the shadow of racism to the fore, or Mahatma Gandhi in freeing India from British rule, or Nelson Mandela in loosing the chains of apartheid in South Africa, or Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the Canadian Parliament, or Rosa Parks, who moved from the back of the bus to the front of the bus, or currently Pope Francis who has embarked on a renewal within the Vatican. Consider also that these men and women of courage achieved or are achieving societal or institutional change through peaceful means.
However, most LeaderManagers are not societal change agents – they are the necessary force that guide change within the workplace or within local community organizations and institutions. They too need courage to speak the truth.
What do these people do to lighten the darkness?
Champion a new or renewed vision and engage workers and communities in the process. Often workers are kept in the dark as to where the organization is going and are just expected to do and not question. It’s like the manager of one organization I worked for who said, “It is not for us to question why. It’s for us to do and die.” A harsh statement if there ever was one. Needless to say workers in that organization were unhappy, disengaged and looked for a way out of the organization. A clearly stated vision engages workers around a sense of purpose with which they can align their own sense of purpose. When one’s sense of purpose is aligned with the organization, commitment, engagement and loyalty follow.
Redesign structures which encourage collaboration and cooperation. Highly bureaucratic structures reflect stultified silos which are not conducive to people working effectively across boundaries. This came to my attention once again when I heard, “l don’t care what you say, I report to another VP.” Structures that encourage collaboration and cooperation are flat where employees understand their boundaries and where the boundaries don’t bind them in effectively working with others. Employees of flat organizations don’t hide within the silos they know that the vision of the organization can only be achieved by people working together for the benefit of the whole.
Make processes fluid and open. In line with collapsed silos these LeaderManagers work at developing more open and fluid processes. Processes can either cause “red tape,” or encourage “green tape.” Rigid organizations usually have too much “red tape” which inhibit workers from effectively doing their job. “Red tape” occurs when the leadership team reacts to one-off or exceptional situations with new rules and regulations which in effect slows down the whole of the organization. It’s like one grain of sand in the inner workings of a time piece. The small grain slows the whole mechanism and on occasion even causes it to stop. The time piece works well when nothing gets in the way of the wheels of motion. So too organizations will work well and move forward when their processes are fluid allowing people to get on with their work.
Open doors to a set of positive values. Such values could include compassion, joy and honesty. A compassionate workplace gives new meaning to work; a joyful workplace makes it a fun place to work; and an honest workplace opens the door for greater justice, trust and cooperation.
Organizations have values whether they are stated or not. People who are sensitive to the vibes of an organization can feel its values. Now add to the mix the behaviour workers exhibit. They will reflect what the organization believes to be of value. The darker shadow always reflects negative values, the light always reflects positive values. Positive values are those that move an organization forward. These are the values that LeaderManagers must champion as they help organizations move out of the shadow.
Find solutions to problems, not bigger problems. Problems always have a cause and an effect. Strong LeaderManagers go to the cause of the problem and find ways to solve it. In the process they don’t create bigger problems than the one they are attempting to solve. A concrete example of this occurred in a correctional centre where a problem occurred on the food serving line. About a month prior to the occurrence a certain food type was served that caused severe diarrhea among the inmates. They were promised that that food type would not be served again by the Director of Custody. Unfortunately he didn’t tell the cooks his promise. You guessed it. A month later the food type was on the menu. The inmates went on a sit-down strike. The custodial staff wanted to go into the cell block with clubs and shields, but the LeaderManager found a peaceful and more lasting solution. He sat down with the leaders of the inmate community and sorted out a solution that included bringing them into the kitchen and showing them what was available. The solution, extra baloney sandwiches. The problem was solved without causing a bigger problem. LeaderManagers find solutions without creating bigger shadows.
Thank you for reading,
Richard P. Fontanie