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  • Stephen Scott Johnson

Unresolved shadow – the ‘kill switch’ of team success

When you think of high-performance, do you imagine the accomplishment of elite athletes and their exceptional discipline, strength, and determination? Or do think of outstanding teamwork, accountability, and results? Perhaps you think of it more simply as being “the best at what you do”? Whichever way you identify, the consensus is that high-performance means success.


There is a largely unknown context undermining the performance of individuals and teams that is rarely discussed in professional circles, let alone considered as a ‘culture killer’, leadership deficit, or cause of friction. I’m talking about personal shadow – a force of the unconscious first coined by founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, which can be destructive, divisive, and self-sabotaging if ignored.


Shadow is a psychological term for everything we deny or can’t see about ourselves – the disowned and discouraged parts of our first 20 years of life on the planet that get bundled together and kept outside of conscious awareness. As adults, we compensate for these deficits, which form as a result of unmet safety and belonging needs and adapt to our external world. Hence, shadow shape’s identity and influences distinctive patterns of behaviour and personality traits. The great news is we are not our patterns. Shadow can be transformed from a liability into a strength.


There is no judgement in shadow – only awareness – and opportunity for growth. As a professional mentor, I observe shadow influencing even the most accomplished of leaders and teams, and what I’ve come to realise is that there is no silver bullet to transform potential into effectiveness. The fact is, our human side can derail performance – our own, and other people’s personalities, combined with external interactions, become liabilities when not understood.


If the idea of shadow in your workplace seems far-fetched, take a moment to consider the micro-manager who controls too tightly [for fear of failure and poor results reflecting negatively upon them]; the colleague who overpromises yet doesn’t deliver [overcompensating for lack of self-worth by saying ‘yes’ to everything in order to win approval]; the perfectionist who refuses to share work and progress and repeatedly blows deadlines [for fear of being shamed or ridiculed]; and overly critical teammates and office bullies [who blame others to deflect attention away from their own fear of failure, inadequacy, and lack of self-worth].


High-performance starts at an individual level.


Resolving ‘blind spots’ in teams is like defragmenting a computer – an essential process of removing barriers that limit people’s ability to function cohesively and reshaping how they think and operate. If your team is behind the eight-ball, constantly reacting to external circumstances that dictate the work environment, or you are frustrated because your people take initiative but get in their own way – it’s most likely unresolved shadow. If you want to turn a team around, recognising shadow is an essential prerequisite to success.


When resolved, shadow becomes a superpower to excel beyond our limits. If unresolved, it’s the “kill switch” to success and potential.


Great leaders intuitively understand that achieving the right mix of skills, experience, and personality is key to an effective working group. Get that mix wrong, even by just one individual, and the result can be catastrophic. Consider that by choosing to not resolve shadow, your team will stay the same.


The invitation is to excel beyond your limits.


With every moment of every day, we have the ability to change – to resolve shadow and alter perspective to bring new energy and vitality to our personal and professional context. Author Cleo Wade writes in Heart Talk – Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life, “There will always be people and circumstances that trigger our anger, sadness, or resentment, but when we allow those emotions to stay on a loop in our minds, that is on us, not on them.”


Until next time...

Stephen