The 5 Shadows of Leadership

This is a guest post by Tyler Braun. Tyler is a 27-year-old INTJ living in Portland, Oregon with his wife Rose. He works full time as a worship leader, while also finding time to study at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in pursuit of a masters degree. Tyler’s first book releases in August of this year through Moody Publishers and is available for pre-order now. You can find Tyler on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

Here is the post:

The 5 Shadows of Leadership

Life is often the summation of darkness and light. One job of a leader is to bring more light into the world of those around them. This can obviously be done in a variety of ways, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Leaders must learn how to deal with their own internal shadows in order to bring light out of their own lives.

In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer evaluates 5 shadows (chapter 5 of the book) that must be explored in order for internal transformation to take place. In life and in leadership, the shadows can often overtake us to the point where we get lost in the darkness of our own lives and begin to reflect the darkness onto those around us. This is our opportunity to dive into the depths of our own inner lives in order for God to more greatly work in us, and in turn, those we have influence with.

Insecurity About Identity and Worth

Few things are more powerful than what gives us our identities. Our online persona, our pastoral influence behind the pulpit, the number of people who want to spend time with us—all this can slowly create an identity bound up with what we do, not who we are. Before we are leaders with a position and a title, we are first children of God. We are loved and valued as beings created by God. When this fact roots us, what happens at home, at work, at school—all of it is put in its rightful place in life.

Seeing Life as a Battleground

I’m an extremely competitive person. The games I play that have a clear winner and loser, I play to the death. Subsequently I can tend to view life and ministry similarly. What can often keep me motivated is a fear of losing. The problem with an internal belief of life as a battleground is that it builds walls between us the and the people we should be extending bridges to.

In leadership there are times when hard decisions need to be made and stark lines must be drawn in the sand, but often getting over our need to win will allow us to bring harmony to our relationships.

Functional Atheism

Craig Groeschel did a wonderful job of describing all the ways we believe in God but live as if He didn’t exist. Functional atheism within leadership is a deep-seated understanding that all of life is dependent on us and our abilities. We often convince ourselves that if things must happen, we will be the ones to do it. And the result of this mindset is burnout, depression, and poor relationships. Overcoming this shadow allows us to rely on others, which empowers them and liberates us from our own atheistic world.

Fear of Chaos

I know many leaders, including myself, who speak of messiness as a reality of the spiritual life, but operate in their leadership as if messy was the cardinal sin. The lesson often learned in exploring this shadow is that chaos is the beginning of creativity and, in turn, creation.

Palmer says that the “when a leader fears chaos so deeply as to try to eliminate it, the shadow of death will fall across everything that leader approaches.”

Denial of Death

We all know them: the pastors who won’t let a ministry die. More than likely we’ve each held onto our hopes for a failing ministry longer than we should have. Our intentions are correct, but by denying death we put unnecessary demands on others to continue breathing life for the sake of accommodating our own insecurity. Here’s the truth we often miss in covering up our insecurity: Death always creates conditions in which new life can be birthed.

In our heads we know death does not have the final victory, but in our hearts we remain concerned that death reflects poorly on our leadership. And this connects back to the beginning: Where is our identity and value found?

What shadows of leadership have you explored?

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Join the discussion 21 Comments

  • Bryankr says:

    I must admit that I saw myself in some of these. Of those, I have had a chance to work through some, but one, I still have issues with. Life as a Battlefiield; I am also very competetive, and to be honest, find it difficult not to view things in that manner. I am not sure I shouldn’t! Not to say you are incorrect, just to say I am having “issues”. The good thing is: I know they are issues, and I have them instead of others. God has taught me a good many things already, including some of those listed in your post today. Time involving, to be sure, but never a waste. I useally have something to teach my kids at Church!
    Twitter: bryankr

  • Kari Scare says:

    The Holy Spirit has been bringing the idea of insecurity with my identiy and worth to mind recently, and that is one reason I wrote Through Eyes of Perfection for my blog this past Monday. Getting that right allows me to strengthen relationships. My pastor has said many times that "you can be right or you can have relationship,' and I think that is the essense of what you are talking about with regard to relationships. At least part of it anyway. Also, I get the idea of a fear of chaos. I lived in chaos for so long that it finally broke me down, and now I fear returning anywhere near it. There's good and bad in that. Good to keep my life from getting too busy but bad in that I think I stay away from things I need to try. Finally, the idea that death brings life is also huge. A good leader knows when something must end in order for something else to begin. You really hit on some points that I have been trying to spiritually process recently. My last thought is this… how does this idea of "shadows of leadership" fit with what we read in scripture about God's shadow (Psalm 91:1)? Is there a connection? Not sure yet, but a thought to consider.
    Twitter: KariScare

    • Tyler Braun says:

      Thanks Kari. Sounds like you've done a lot of work to dive into these areas already. As far as Psalm 91:1, I read it as resting in God's presence, which would be the opposite kind of shadow as what I've described here. The shadows here are areas that can potentially bring us and those around us, down. God's shadow is a place where we rest in knowing He's at work in us and in our world.

      • Kari Scare says:

        Diving into these areas is even more painful that my sore muscles this morning, but the breakdown is necessary for the build up. Right… opposite truth for sure, which is probably why it stuck out to me. I often think that way, and it seems to lead me to a better understanding.
        Twitter: KariScare

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for your honesty.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • Kmac4him says:

    AWE-GOD! Great post! Thank you! “Fix It Myself Shadow” Everything must succeed in the way “I” planned for it to go. If it doesn’t, I will fix it until it does. EXHAUSTING! God’s ways, very nearly never go the way we plan and with great purpose for many people that is INFINITELY SO! When the “fix it” mentality shadows the Sovereignty of God’s purposes in play, the end result is stagnant leadership void of growth, leadership growing inward-downward instead of outward-upward. The question is: Am I pressing into the “ministry task” at hand or am I pressing into God, fully facing God? Have I compartmentalized God to “do” His work and I will “do” mine? Or am I ALL-IN with “being” His and knowing, "He’s Got This" no matter what way my administrative planning works out, His fine-tuned purposeful adjustment is better. Go with His flow, step into His Kingdom purposes and stop living life out of the “finite details” instead of the “Infinite Purposes” of God. I hope huge, I have left this shadow behind me forever!! More of YOU Jesus, Less of me – More of YOUR Kingdom Jesus, less of this world! More Infinite – Less Finite!
    Twitter: kmac4him

  • MichaelDWarden says:

    Great post, Tyler, on a critically important topic for leaders. For those who are interested in digging deeper, there's also a helpful book on this subject that I often recommend to the leaders I work with: Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary Mcintosh and Samuel Rima. Here's the Amazon link:
    http://www.amazon.com/Overcoming-Dark-Side-Leader

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Tyler Braun says:

      Great recommendation Michael. I'm a big fan of McIntosh. Read a few of his books surrounding church management and leadership during school and found them to be very encouraging and helpful.

  • Melissa says:

    Very interesting post. I think a shadow of leadership that many fall into is the 'need to please' pit. I deal with it mostly at work and dealing with customers daily, hourly (and with email availability) minute by minute…..We sometimes get overwhelmed with requests that are followed up by a phone call "did you get my email (literally seconds before). Human nature is to react for the particular customer and start scrapping to get info together for them.

    I've now learned to stop, take a deep breath, line up work/requests according to their 'place in line' and decided that they can wait their turn, TACTFULLY telling them that. Darkness (messiness, disorganization, confusion) into LIGHT (plan of action, peace of mind, satisfied customer and provider:)

    • Tyler says:

      I've found that many leaders have this "need to please" gene within them. It's part of what makes them great, but when it becomes too strong it can overwhelm them too much. Like you said, the best way to combat this is to have a consistent plan and process for how to deal with requests.

      • Melissa says:

        What a twist to describe atheism as 'functional'. It is true for many of us, but I never thought of it like that and boy, that thought is scary! I will definitely work on that….yikes!

        Thanks for the earlier reply.

    • Kmac4him says:

      That is some really good wisdom Melissa. At one time in the past I was an assistant branch manager of a bank. There are some times in banking that are extremely busier than others. I noticed the tellers that were anxious about the long lines, made the most mistakes. I used to tell them to focus directly on the customer in front of you, have a good attitude and serve them with a full focus. Even if they have waited in line for a long time, they will be open to "catch" a good attitude, a servant's heart and will feel the full focus you have for them.
      Twitter: kmac4him

      • ronedmondson says:

        Thanks for this.
        Twitter: Ronedmondson

      • Melissa says:

        What great advice. I challenge myself with each customer…to find something unique about each individual….now if you have any advice on remembering names. : )

        Thank you for the feedback on earlier post.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I love this Melissa
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

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