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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

29 Mar '10

Managing the Shadow Side


I remember as a child playing a game of trying to move fast enough to lose my shadow. It never worked. My shadow followed me no matter what I did. I could jump, dodge and weave and the shadow remained.



We all have a shadow side: it is the side of us that we try to ignore and don’t want to acknowledge. As a result, it often gets us into trouble with others and can severely compromise our influence if not destroy it altogether. Deep influence is, after all gained the hard way as we have already seen. Unfortunately it can easily be compromised or destroyed if we don’t practice the discipline of managing our shadow side. The stronger our strengths – the longer our shadow!

As Christian leaders we have an ideal us that we want to project to others – and believe about ourselves. We believe in spiritual transformation and desperately desire that transformation for our lives. We are often disciplined to a fault in our effort to become all that God wants us to become. But like my childhood game, we will never lose our shadow side until we finally meet Christ face to face. In the meantime, we need to understand ourselves deeply, know where the shadow side lies, manage it carefully and allow the Holy Spirit to deeply sensitive us to facets of our wiring and areas of personal temptation that make up our shadow side.


It is easy to spot the shadow side in others. They are those behaviors that disempower others, cause us frustration or anger and frankly the very things we wish we could talk to them about. Unfortunately for us they are not alone. Our issues may be different but each of us has a shadow side that regularly threatens to lessen our influence and detract from the impact God desires us to have.


Every strength we possess comes with a requisite downside – a liability. When we exercise our strengths we live in our sweet spot – if we are also managing the downside of those strengths.


One of my five signature strengths on Strengthfinders is that I am a “maximizer.” As a maximizer, I want to always maximize ministry opportunity and leave nothing on the table. This means that I will question why we do things the way we do them and always push for the most effective strategy to maximize results with the people, resources and opportunities we have. As an organizational leader, this is a great strength to have and it has had a positive impact on the methodology of our organization.


But there is a downside as well. As a maximizer I can easily become impatient with strategies that do addition rather than multiplication. It is not the impatience that is a bad thing – it can be a very good thing, but when my impatience causes me to be less diplomatic, respond harshly or in some way devalue others who don’t yet “get it,” the strength has gone to its shadow side. I am sure there are those who have viewed me over the years as insensitive and uncaring in situations where I did not adequately manage the shadow side of this otherwise great strength.

Knowing the shadow side of our strengths allows us to manage or compensate in ways that prevent the strength from becoming a liability. I have learned in the case of my maximizer strength to press more gently and dialogue more than preach to help others understand that we can move toward greater effectiveness if we think multiplication rather than addition. I have learned the hard way over the years that process and time are essential ingredients to moving people and organizations in a more effective direction. And, I have learned the necessity of simply being patient in situations where in the past I would have been far less patient.


I have a pastor friend who is the ultimate relationship guy. If he were to take Strengthsfinders, I am sure his number one strength would be “woo” which means he influences others by bringing them into his orbit with the force of his friendly demeanor. He also has a gift for talking – which most highly relational folks do. Everyone in the church loves him because he is so winsome, so encouraging, and everyone feels connected to him. There is no manipulation involved, it is who he is. Much of what he has accomplished as a leader in his church comes back to his winsome, relational style. It is a huge strength and I have watched it for years.


However, this great strength also has its liabilities – its shadow side. He has found over the years that he could “wing it” on many issues and just get by with his relational skill rather than doing his homework on critical issues. That works for a while but not forever, and staff and church leaders often feel that they have been shortchanged by a lack of discipline in decision making because my friend has learned to do it by the seat of his pants rather than through team. He simply uses the force of his personality to convince others that his way is the right way.


And he is hard to disagree with. He is the ultimate debater who can dominate any conversation and meeting – and usually does, leaving others feeling like they cannot win and their opinion is not important. Because he is so likable, he often gets away with it but it is not without cost. The cost is a feeling of being used, not being heard, and a sense of being devalued in the process. His team meetings are not about mutual dialogue but about him expounding. This has led to tension with his team and his board who feel that it is a one man show. At one point of tension, my friend almost lost his church because of the shadow side of his relational strength.

Every strength brings with it a liability, a shadow side that unless recognized, become sensitized to and managed will either compromise the strength, or can even turn the strength into a greater liability than the strength itself. The latter case is the ultimate irony about our strengths. Unchecked, our strengths can become the very means of our loss of influence and effectiveness. It is on those shoals that many brilliant men and woman have lost their influence!