“The Shadow of the Leader”
Last week details began to surface about major scandals in two large organizations within our Federal government – the GSA and the Secret Service. I can’t help but wonder if the scandals resulted from a breakdown in leadership at the top. I’ll leave it to the investigations currently underway to uncover the facts and determine where the ultimate responsibility lies.
What I do know for certain is that people in positions of leadership have tremendous influence over the conduct of the people who work for them. People watch their leader very carefully. The actions taken by the leader, the messages sent by the leader, and the attitudes displayed by the leader all work together to shape the tone and culture for the entire organization. Like it or not, leaders are in a fishbowl.
In Managers Can You Hear Me Now? I discuss the importance of a concept called “shadow of the leader.” To be clear, the shadow of the leader is not an original thought of mine, but rather I became acquainted with the concept years ago through the Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group. It’s a concept that has stuck with me ever since.
So what is a leader’s “shadow”? The word shadow is defined as a mirrored image or reflection. In this case, the shadow of the leader is a metaphor for a leader’s character, integrity, accountability and work ethic. It is the sum total of how a leader conducts him or herself. Employees tend to look to their leader for clues as to what is important within an organization; and while they hear what their leader says, they will model themselves after what their leader does. In essence, they take their cues from their leader and reflect his or her behavior.
Although the current government scandals occurred in entirely different organizations within the Federal government, they both appear to have the same theme: have a good time on the taxpayers’ dime. How can two agencies — one charged with protecting the president, the other with eliminating government waste — lose their moral compass and work ethic? We can debate which leaders at what levels in the government cast the wrong shadow. I’ll conclude simply by saying leadership failed. The employees involved in both scandals did what they did because, at the time, they thought it was acceptable behavior.
In both cases the wrong leadership shadow was cast.