20 Essential Qualities of a Great Shadow Leader

he concept of the shadow, being one of influence of one human on another, has no doubt been around since the start of time and has been used in many contexts. In 1970, Larry Senn published a doctoral dissertation conceptualising the shadow in an organisation environment. His argument was that an organisation is simply a shadow of its leaders.

Years ago, I had a good friend from Hyderabad who invited me to join him and his young family for dinner. During the conversation, he told me that in India they have the saying ‘children are a map of their parents’. This saying has always stuck with me and I have often passed on the wisdom to the thousands of managers I have trained over the years. The message is a simple one: your team is a map of you and your shadow casts itself upon those under your authority. A manager’s style has a large influence on how employees feel about being at work, and that, in turn, impacts directly on their engagement and productivity.

You don’t have ask to many people about their own poor experience with their leaders to know that the world is full of leaders who don’t know how to lead. John Maxwell, one of the greatest influences of our time, would describe these people as being positional leaders; they are in a position of leadership, but lack the capabilities to cast an effective shadow over those around them. So what makes a great shadow? There are lots of books written on this subject, some good, some not so good.

I am going to give you my thoughts which are based on the hundreds of leadership courses I run every year. In fact, these thoughts are not really mine, they are yours. I run a module where I ask delegates to describe the qualities of a good or great leader that they have worked for. What was their shadow like? What did they do that had such a positive impact on their career? Group after group would describe the exact same qualities in these leaders, their shadows had a very familiar look. I have attempted to capture the main thoughts in the infographic below. It’s by no means exhaustive, but this is the picture of the shadow I have been told about time and time again. I’m going to give you the same advice I give my delegates: print this off, laminate it, and stick it in your shower so that every morning you can look at this shadow and ask yourself, is this my shadow? If the answer is yes, then more than likely there is something great happening in your team.

20 qualities of a great shadow leader infographic

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Paul Rhodes


Paul is GM and founder of Seven Institute. With over twenty years’ experience in the training industry, Paul has acquired extensive knowledge across many disciplines. Paul is an engaging, polished and motivating presenter,as his delegates often mention in his excellent feedback. We hope you will find our Content Share series interesting and useful!


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