The ‘Emotionally Healthy Leader’….Reflections on Our Shadow

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Autumn. It might just be my favorite time of the year. The changing leaves, cool brisk morning air, pumpkins, fall wreaths, apples, and sweet cinnamon hand soap are some of the small things that make my heart sing. As I embark into another fall season, much about it feels familiar. An yet no season is the same. I’m in a new season of evaluating myself as as leader. I know this won’t be the last time.

Glenn and I have been reading and talking through a book called, The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero. I have been incredibly challenged in my inner and outer life through Pete’s life experiences and Godly wisdom.

One of the chapters addresses Facing Your Shadow. What is a ‘shadow’? Scazzero calls a shadow “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure, motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behavior. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who you are.” Our shadow side may be sin, or simply weaknesses. For some it might be greed, bitterness, anger, sloth or perfectionism. For others it could present itself in a need to be needed or be liked by people, overworking, or a desire to control. Scazerro references Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I can relate. As I go about my day, cleaning, teaching, organizing (maybe), writing, reading, more cleaning up, driving, chatting…I typically think of myself as a well-adjusted human. But oh, some nights, I am a mess. My insecurities about relationships, educational decisions, family situations– you name it— all come out in a not-so-pretty external-processing. I’m learning the more aware I am of my emotions, and the better I get at communicating them, the healthier I’ll be.

Being an ‘Enneagram 9’, I am a mediator or peacemaker. Because of this, I try to harmonize the various parts of my life. I appreciate seeing all sides of an idea so sometimes taking a firm position on something is difficult. In the past month, I’ve agonized over certain decisions and get frustrated with being what Glenn affectionately calls a ‘process’ decision-maker (as in, I’ve got to test things and see how it feels, before deciding on them). I’m continuing to realize and embrace the way God made me, and yet continue to lean into Him as I lead out of weakness.

[By the way, if you want to dig deeper into looking at your shadow side, you might enjoy the Enneagram typology. Its an ancient framework using nine types helping you identify your true essence and what motivates your behavior. I may blog about this some time…]

Back to the book…

Assessment
Throughout the book, there are opportunities for self-assessment. [There are more resources related to emotionally healthy leadership and spirituality HERE.] Here’s a portion of Scazzero’s assessment, ‘How Healthy is Your Approach to Your Shadow?’ (Scazzero has a rating scale, but you can use these statements for contemplation here.)

  • I take time regularly to experience and process my anger, fear, and sadness with God and others.
  • I have a healthy awareness of my shadow – my wounds, self-protectiveness, and weaknesses – and how I am tempted to sin against other people in my unguarded moments.
  • I am honest with myself and a few significant others about the struggles, doubts, and hurts deep beneath the surface of my life.
  • I am able to identify the roots of my leadership weaknesses and failures (mixed motives, fear of what others think, anxiety, anger, etc) In my family of origin or in my personal history.

You know it’s your shadow when……

  • You act out inappropriately under pressure
  • You don’t want someone to succeed because they’ve hurt you
  • You get busier rather than more reflective when your are anxious
  • You do and say things out of fear of what other people think.

“The degree to which you can recognize and engage your own shadow is the degree to which you can free others to face theirs.”

Reflection:
Sometimes I wish this process would end, but I remind myself the Holy Spirit is living in me encouraging, comforting, and teaching me every step of the way. My heart’s desire is to disciple others, but how can I do that in His way if I’m not continuing to allow Him to work in my own heart?

If we are to grow into the likeness of God, we must grow in awareness of how He wants to change us.

More reflections on the book to come…

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