Your Leadership Shadow – why it is important to create it with intention

Have you ever worked for a boss who was full of promises but never delivered on them? Or was always excited at the start of a project but then went completely silent with no follow through? Or had really high expectations of you but would not meet those themselves? Or someone who would be quick to point out mistakes but never give any praise?

I think it’s safe to say we all have experienced someone like this at some stage in your working life. And maybe we even find ourselves guilty of falling into any of these bad behaviours.

‘Every leader casts a shadow, so be aware of the fact that people will do what you do.’ – David Novak

The thing is that, as a leader, everything we say and everything we do has an impact not only on the outcome of our action, but it also influences the people around us. It is important to understand our own impact on others – the shadow we cast. It’s hard to see our own shadow – its shape, reach and strengths – so creating it with intention must be the focus. A team follows their leader, and it’s up to us if we lead the way or get in the way.

I am working as part of a Females in Leadership program in the finance industry, and the goal of ‘creating my leadership shadow’ has come up a lot recently. So I thought I would share with you what a leadership shadow is and how you can create your own with intention.

Here is a definition of Leadership Shadow:

‘This concept of the unconscious influence of a manager is known as ‘The Shadow of the Leader’ which, as the name suggests, relates to the influence – for better or worse – of the leader on their team. A leader’s shadow may be cast so wide that it affects the culture of an entire organisation.’

Leadership Shadow goes beyond our personal brand and reputation. It’s not just what people say about us when we leave the room; it’s the collective behaviour and, ultimately, the culture we create through our actions, decision and communication.

‘A leader doesn’t just get the message across; he is the message.’ – Warren Bennis

I was working with an area leader in the retail industry who struggled with leading his team. There was low morale, a lack of collaboration and his team was underperforming. Self-reflection and comments from his 360-feedback revealed that it was he who had to start making changes first. He constantly missed cascading important information from the head office, had poor time management and didn’t follow through on tasks which held his team back to finish projects or reports. He role-modelled badly, and his team, whilst complaining about it, adopted his behaviour. He cast a shadow of unreliability, poor communication and lack of accountability.

The Leadership Shadow Model

Originally developed by Goldman Sachs, the Leadership Shadow Model below is simple and practical. The concept is based on the premise that leadership starts at the top, and if leaders want to make a difference, they must understand the shadow they cast:

I used this model with the retail leader, which helped him put concrete plans in place to change his shadow. He held regular meetings with a strict agenda to communicate changes and information consistently. I also helped him to craft those messages to get buy-in from his team and take suggestions on board (what he said). He focused on what his team needed from him as a link to the executive team and other stakeholders. He improved his time management and delivered on what he promised by empowering his team to hold him accountable (how he acted and what he prioritised). This one was a hard but also a very powerful change. Giving and receiving feedback – good and bad was what helped to measure the success of the team. The improved performance in the form of numbers spoke for itself (how he measured).

How do I create my Leadership Shadow?

  1. Start with self-awareness. Use the Leadership Shadow Model and reflect on how well you do in each of the segments. Challenge yourself and ask questions like: am I thinking, acting, measuring and doing all the things that are consistent with what I say or promise? Get some feedback from your teams and stakeholders or use a 360-feedback process.
  2. Work with your coach, line manager or mentor and create development plans for each of the sections. The model is all about authenticity and consistency, so get someone to hold you accountable for making the change.
  3. Involve your team and be transparent about the process. Ask them for feedback and get them to think about their own leadership shadow using the same model.

In this Forbes article Timothy R. Clark says that your leadership shadow is the culture you create by using two levers of influence – Modelling & Coaching:

  • Modelling: role-modelling behaviour consistently and visually.
  • Coaching: how you guide your team, give them feedback and hold them accountable.

‘The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.’ – Gruenter and Whitaker

Do you need help to create your Leadership Shadow? Let’s work together and dive deep into what you say, how you act, what you prioritise and how you measure. Contact me on for a free consultation.

Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert