What’s Happening On Your Shadow Mission?

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Care for people, Leadership


Light, shadow, and emotional intelligence

Not long ago, I traveled to Barcelona to attend the International Leadership Association’s annual conference. In my first days there, a speaker cautioned us to “be conscious of the shadow your light casts.” For me, his words were contradictory, profound, and soul-stirring.

Sitting in a conference room, I pondered my leadership mission versus my shadow mission. In the context of light and dark, our leadership mission is the light we cast. Our shadow mission is the dark that we cast. Our leadership mission is our flame, our passion, our fire, and our dreams. Our shadow mission is the opposite of our leadership mission: it is the cold, dark place that comforts us when we decide that we can’t, it’s too hard, or we’re afraid. Our shadows are the places we live on emotionally-sullen days.

Some trees, shrubs, and flowers grow best in shadow, but weeds do too.

Those words served as a caution to me.

Scientists have discovered beautiful species of plants and animals thriving in the shadows in rainforests and mountainous regions the world over. However, weeds also grow in these beautiful places, stealing life from the beauty surrounding them.

Unfortunately, as leaders we sometimes find ourselves living our shadow mission and not our leadership mission. We sometimes find ourselves living into our shadow mission in our careers. I have seen co-workers living shadow missions at work. These co-workers reject change and team work, negatively impacting the entire team. During discussion with these co-workers, they realize they are not living into their leadership mission. The shadows are not what the co-workers intend to cast. When we are not aware of our leadership mission and our shadow mission, we do not know when we are living into our shadow mission.

Our leadership challenge, as the speaker reminded us, is to stay awake to who we are, right now. This is obviously difficult to do. How do we live into our light, while remaining cognizant of our shadow?

  1. Know your leadership mission.
  2. Know your shadow mission. The purpose of know your shadow mission is to ensure you are aware of it and do not live into it.
  3. Ask yourself these questions: Am I living into who I said I would be? Am I living into who I want to be?

If you answered yes to the above, use an Appreciative Inquiry approach by building upon your strengths. What do I do well? Why do I live into my leadership mission well? What can I do to continue living into my leadership mission well?

If you answered no to question three, ask yourself why not. Brainstorm positive action steps you can take to live into your leadership mission. Then consider the process that your positive action steps require. (Sometimes we are discouraged because we did not consider the necessary process to acquire our leadership mission.) Write realistic implementation steps to help you live into your leadership mission. Now it’s time to implement your positive action steps!

When we lead or make decisions based on fears or the “what ifs” we are making decisions for all the wrong reasons, for then it’s our shadows that are making choices for us.
~ Donna Karlin, The Shadow Coach.


Chantel MooreChantel Moore is a Data Analyst/Accreditation Specialist at the American Osteopathic Association(AOA), a medical association for osteopathic physicians and medical students that certifies D.O.s and accredits osteopathic medical schools. She is also a doctoral student with the Center for Values-Driven Leadership.



Photo Credit: BriarCraft via Compfight cc

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