The Shadow Of The Leader

In one of Aesop’s fables, a political leader accuses his shadow of bad values only to be confronted by the shadow about the leader’s own failings. In short, the shadow wants nothing to do with the leader. The shadow is ashamed of the leader.

Leaders — whether political leaders or organizational leaders — cast shadows. “The shadow of the leader” is evocative language used to describe how a leader’s choices, actions, style and values dramatically influence those same things in the organization — or the nation — as a whole. As the Aesop fable implies, though, the word ‘shadow’ is not pejorative. Because leaders are human, their choices and values inevitably bring a mix of good, bad and inbetween. The key question about what kind of shadow is cast by the leader has to do with the overall effects the leader has on the political body or the organization.

Consider, for example, MIke Brown, the recently departed head of FEMA. What shadow did he cast on FEMA? Hurricane Katrina cast Brown’s shadow in dramatic relief — and the incompetence surfaced suggests that Brown’s shadow was far more destructive than constructive.

Consider, as another example, Tom DeLay and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives? What kind of shadow did DeLay cast? Based on recent legal indictments (among other things), it would seem DeLay’s values were very dark and negative — just the kind of effect that the ‘shadow’ in Aesop’s fable is running away from. DeLay’s leadership evokes yet another phrase often used to convey the effects and influence of bad leaders on those they lead: the fish rots from the head.

Now, consider leaders in your organization. What kind of shadow do they cast? How do their choices, actions, beliefs, behaviors, and values add up? Would their shadows, if given the chance, cut and run? Or, would the shadows – on balance — gladly continue walking together with the leader toward some best future for the organization being led?

Posted by Doug Smith on January 10, 2006 03:02 PM | Permalink

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