If you want to become a better leader, you need to face your shadows. The “shadow self” refers to the aspects of ourselves that we, or society, have deemed as “unacceptable,” “dark,” “embarrassing,” or “unpleasant”. Everyone has a shadow self, but most people choose to ignore it. This shadow self may present as fears, jealousy, laziness, rage, avoidance, self-sabotage, or any other trait you deem as undesirable. The problem is, when we choose to turn a blind eye to our darkness, it oozes out in sneaky ways. One common way that I’ve seen it personally impact my clients and I is through leadership. Let’s talk about it.
From People-Pleaser to Leader: My Story
Shadow work and leadership has a special place in my heart because it has transformed my life.
When I began my career in the startup space, I had led before, but not in a corporate-style environment. I knew I had the skills to delegate, spot misalignment, improve performance, and do it all with a smile on my face, so I entered the role confidently.
However, once I was in the role, I was different.
I didn’t speak up, I felt like I lost my voice and my ability to make sound decisions, I feared delegating, I set permeable boundaries, and I became so stressed and disempowered.
It was confusing since that wasn’t the woman who had entered the role. Yes, I was young. But I had already had success, like leading a team to 2x their sales from the year prior, and hitting the top sales in 19 years in another.
I knew I had the skills to excel, but where did they go?
One day, the team decided to do a vulnerability exercise. The question that we were asked to share on was, “what incident from your childhood has impacted the way you lead today?”.
Immediately, a memory came to mind. I was no older than 10 years old and I was the only girl in a swimming lesson group full of older kids.
When I was young, I was super athletic for my age. And so, during our fun races, I would usually beat the older boys. Even though it was all fun and games, what my young mind observed was that when I’d win a race, the boys wouldn't want to be my friend anymore.
Although this memory was a silly memory from many years before, I was shaking as I shared it to the team. I soon realized that it was because there was so much more attached to that one memory than I could have ever imagined.
It wasn’t until I did shadow work that I really found out the importance of this memory.
During my previous successful roles, I wasn’t directly sitting in a room daily with my co-workers building bonds, so these fears didn’t arise. But in this new startup setting, I was sitting in very close quarters most hours of the week with the same people, and we had become friends.
The subconscious fear was triggered: When I do well, I lose friends.
As I started to dig deeper into this subconscious belief, I began to see how much it had impacted my life in all areas up until that point. I stopped trying in school, I would sabotage my games as a top-performing soccer player, I would find a way to dim myself if someone complimented me.
All because of a silly, internalized belief.
Since healing that belief (and a few other similar ones), everything has changed. I’ve been a top performer in sales, I’ve helped tons of organizations become more influential through my copywriting business, and now I coach clients on how to become the most powerful version of themselves.
All because I faced my weaknesses and found the root.
How "Shadows" Impact Leadership
Great leaders lead by example and stand firmly in their power. They want to be the best they can be for themselves, but also so that they can help others become the best that they can be. When we don't face ourselves, we limit our own greatness.
When the shadow self goes unaddressed, I’ve seen it show up in 3 main ways:
Repeated unhealthy patterns
In leadership, this may look like a fear of fully speaking up, not feeling confident in your decisions, burning out because you’re too scared to say “no,” too fearful to take the leap into a more challenging (yet fulfilling) role, projecting limiting beliefs onto others, carrying a scarcity mindset around money, and so much more.
The reason so many of these subconscious beliefs originate from childhood is because during childhood we take everything personally. We don’t understand that not everything is about us. For that reason, we create meaning about situations and relate it back to ourselves.
Once a subconscious belief is formed, regardless if it’s helpful or harmful, it essentially creates a lens that we perceive the world from. The subconscious mind loves the familiar because its role is to keep us safe, and so it’s going to look for similar experiences that reflect our subconscious beliefs back to us.
Each time it spots something that could align with a subconscious belief, that belief strengthens. Even if that subconscious belief isn’t directly linked to performance, it may still impact it.
For example, most of my clients have abandonment wounds. Often, how I see this reflected in business is that they believe that “everything good always leaves”. So as soon as they get a great position, they sabotage it; or, even if they make great money, they’re always broke; or, they’re always burnt out because they’re over-working while anticipating abandonment (being fired or laid off).
Patterns repeat until we face the subconscious beliefs that are running the show.
How to Start Shadow Work Today
I want you to walk away from this article feeling empowered, and I’m going to give you a step-by-step rundown of how to do shadow work today; however, I need to provide a disclaimer first: Shadow work can bring up very heavy emotions and memories you’ve blocked out. Please do not do self-guided shadow work if you’re in a vulnerable state. If emotions do arise that are too much to handle, please reach out to someone you trust immediately. Okay, great! Now let’s dive into it.
Step 1: Find a fear or behaviour that you believe is limiting your leadership skills. This could be a fear of speaking up, imposter syndrome, people-pleasing, etc. Step 2: If you’ve identified a behaviour but not a fear, it’s likely linked to a fear. So tune in and see what that fear is. (Do not judge what comes up, sometimes it doesn’t make sense right away!) This behaviour could be avoiding to delegate and then being overwhelmed with work which leads to poor performance. This could relate to a fear of relying on others, fear of being disliked, etc. Step 3: Once you’ve identified the fear, write down all of the times that this fear came true in your life. Go as far back in your memory as possible. Step 4: Once you’ve identified the earliest memory, sit with it for a moment. Does any tension come up in your body? Are emotions arising? Take note of them, and let emotions flow if they come up. Step 5: Look at the earliest memory, what did this incident lead you to believe about yourself? Take note of it. Step 6: Once you’ve identified the belief it created about yourself and the fear, look for logical evidence that those are not ultimate truths (meaning they are not true for everybody). Step 7: Once you’ve identified that they’re not ultimate truths, look at what the opposing, helpful beliefs would be. Write them down. Step 8: Once you’ve identified the helpful beliefs, I want you to identify how someone who believed the helpful beliefs would show up in the world. Step 9: Determine what actions you can take today that align with the person in step 8. Step 10: Act in accordance. If you want to speed up the process of reprogramming your subconscious mind, I’d highly suggest EFT. I use EFT, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, with my clients because I’ve found it’s the quickest way to rewire the subconscious mind. You can book a free consultation call to work with me if this interests you. It's an evidence-based tapping technique that has been studies in over 100 clinical trials. It has even been shown to be more effective at improving PTSD, anxiety and depression than traditional psychotherapy and psychopharmacology in meta-studies. It’s powerful and it’s simple.
Alternatively, hypnotherapy and guided meditations work well. Regardless, consciously spotting where the subconscious belief is impacting your life and choosing to act differently will shift it over time. It may feel uncomfortable to make different choices, but that’s simply because your body and mind are so used to acting according to one belief. I hope this article has been helpful. You deserve to unlock the most powerful version of yourself in leadership, so it's time to face yourself.