A few years ago, I discovered the Quaker author Parker Palmer. I've read three of his books to date: Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation; The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life; and A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward and Undivided Life. In the latter, Palmer spoke about leadership and made these comments:
But we know of classrooms where the leader casts an ominous shadow under which nothing can grow. I am talking about a parent who can generate the same effects in a family, about a clergyperson who can create a congregation that lurks in the leader's shadow or thrives in his or her light.
Palmer went on to describe what he called five "monster shadows" of a leader:
1. One of the biggest shadows inside a lot of leaders is deep insecurity about their own identity, their own worth.
2. The second shadow of leadership that is inside a lot of us is the perception that the universe is essentially hostile to human interests and that life is fundamentally a battleground.
3. The third shadow in leaders I call "functional atheism"--the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.
4. The fourth shadow among leaders is fear.
5. The final example of shadows that leaders can project on others involves the denial of death.
The hardest part of reading profound statements like these is my tendency to project them onto someone else. The question isn't really who they apply to that I know. The real question is how these shadows affect my leadership and those I am leading.
The fifth shadow is an interesting point. When a leader denies death--there I go again--when I as a leader deny death, I don't delegate. I don't prepare my successor or allow anyone to make any progress because the notoriety, the glory and the praise belong to me. I want (and need) all that. I don't really care about what will happen after I've gone; I just want to extract as much money, power or fame as I can from every situation.
I'm examining my shadows; how about you? Is the light of opportunity serving to cast your shadow onto others and the organizations with which you work? Is that a good thing for those around you? I find the following verse interesting as we consider the issue of monster shadows:
People brought the sick onto the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by (Acts 5:15).
When people touch me, my writing or my work, I want them to be healed and not hurt. For that to happen, I must first acknowledge that I do indeed have shadows and then allow God to transform them from areas of darkness to sources of light and hope. That's what I want, and I hope you will join me in wanting the same to be your leadership legacy.