This article provides an opportunity for you to reflect on your leadership.
Whatever kind of leadership role you hold, from organisational roles to parental roles to the challenges of leading yourself through life, this article will offer a framework through which to explore your leadership style.
Below is a sign that is displayed in my local (and very excellent) fish and chip restaurant:
I have a little chuckle at this sign every time I go in to the shop, and I imagine most other people respond in this way too. It’s hard to imagine someone taking exception to the joke, and saying we really should support and respect our leaders. Leaders are not popular in our society. Very few of us have respect for our leaders or believe they are genuinely trying to lead us in the best way possible for all. They attract a huge amount of criticism and mistrust and are the butt of many jokes. Words that might come to mind are, privileged, out of touch, uncaring, self absorbed, ineffectual, bullying, manipulative, money grabbing, untrustworthy, corrupt, sleazy and worse.
Now picture the elders in a tribe. Any fictional tribe that you can bring to mind – don’t worry about whether or not such a place has ever existed. What words would you associate with these leaders? Maybe fair, thoughtful, wise, calm, strong, trustworthy. Similarly, now bring to mind an ideal loving parent – we may think of caring, supportive, forgiving, boundaried, fair, protective, attentive, listening, encouraging.
These imagined elders and parents have all the qualities that most leaders would say they aspire to – yet the higher up we go in organisations or political structures the less we tend to see these qualities. And even in some small organisations leadership doesn’t look anything like this – with bullying and manipulation being more the flavour of the day, or alternatively a ‘hands off’ approach where there is no presence or genuine leadership. Similarly with parenting, which could be thought of as the most important leadership role we can ever carry out, we often see manipulation and control, over the top anger and bullying or alternatively, a lack of boundaries and an ‘anything for a peaceful life’ approach.
Why is this? It’s as if being placed in a position of leadership people morph in to something different. Their integrity goes, along with the original passion and commitment with which they took on the role. People get channelled in to behaving in particular ways, and as the pressure piles up their good intentions get lost, instead they’re swept up in a struggle to prove their worth, gain esteem and stay in control. They end up leading from a place of fear.
This is so widespread that it is about more than the individual leader. It seems to be a societal wound that we carry together. Indeed, I believe this wound does not just belong to leaders, it also belongs to the people they lead. It is a situation colluded in at some unconscious level by all involved. What is causing this ‘sick’ leadership?
The Sovereign Archetype
In this article I am going to try to answer this question with reference to the ideas and beliefs behind Shadow Work, and I’ll describe the shadows that can come in to play as we carry out our leadership roles. Finally I’ll take a look at possible changes that we can make on a personal level in order to begin to heal this ‘sickness’.
For the purpose of this article I’m loosely defining a leader as the person ‘in charge’ of others, the one who guides others, makes decisions and takes overall responsibility. For the sake of simplicity I am going to talk about the ‘Leader’ (The person ‘in charge’) and the ‘People’ (those being led by the leader in whatever given situation). I’ll use this to encompass the whole variety of possible leadership roles that we could be discussing here – parent, teacher, leader of a group, leader of an organisation, leader of a company, politician and so on. I believe this article is also relevant for each of us on an internal level as we consider how we lead ourselves through life – is there harmony between the part of us that leads and the parts that follow? How does this dynamic work? Do we bully oursleves, bribe, criticise, or give up on ourselves? or do we encourage and support ourselves and say ‘Well done!’? It is worth exploring these internal dynamics and discovering how effectively we lead ourselves. This is likely to give insight in to our Leadership in the outer world.
I am going to organise this discussion of shadows according to the four archetypes that we work with in Shadow Work –The Magician,
The Warrior and
The Sovereign. We believe that we need access to the healthy qualities of all of these four archetypes if we are to live our life fully and have a sense of wholeness. However in this article I will focus most attention on the Sovereign archetype as this is the one that we associate most closely with Leadership. A summary of each archetype is given before the relevant sections. You don’t need to know anything more about the archetypes in order to go ahead and read the article, but it may be helpful for you to have an explanation around what is meant by the ‘Gateway Emotion’ that is listed at the end of each summary. The Gateway Emotion is the emotion that we need to be willing to feel if we want to have access to the healthy qualities that this particular archetype has to offer. It’s as if feeling this emotion opens up a gateway to these qualities. If we’re not able to feel the gateway emotion we won’t be able to fully live this side of ourselves. I’d also like to introduce here the concept of the ‘deep wound’ in each archetype. These are also listed at the end of each summary. We believe that that there are certain deep wounds that we can carry as individuals, often due to the circumstances of the family and society in which we are brought up. Archetypes can be caused to go out of balance as a result of these deep wounds. Each wound will cause a different archetype to become unbalanced. If you’re interested in exploring all of this further there are links at the end of this article that will take you to a more detailed 12/15 minute talk about each one. So let’s start with Sovereign:
Healthy Sovereign – Our Sovereign is our inner Queen or King. The loving parent inside who guides and blesses us as we travel through life. This is the heart that cares.
Our Sovereign holds the vision and passion for our life, it is the part of us
that knows what we really want, and will encourage and
support us as we work to make our plans a reality.
Deep Wound – ‘I’m not good enough’
Gateway Emotion – Joy
In Shadow Work we believe leadership lies in the Sovereign archetype. If this archetype is wounded and out of balance we will lose our capacity to lead well. Interestingly, we will also lose touch with our capacity to ‘be lead’ well – to be effective members of a group, organisation or workplace, supporting and respecting our leader.
The wound that harms the Sovereign archetype is the belief that we are not good enough. This belief develops if we haven’t received the support and blessing we need in our life to believe that we are good enough – worthy, loveable and deserving of respect and care, – exactly as we are, without having to do anything. If we don’t have this belief then we have nothing to rest back in to. We need to be able to rest back, knowing we are held, loved, cherished and believed in – just as we are. From this place we can feel true confidence and find the strength we need to carry out our role. I liken this to the ‘Seat’ or ‘Throne’ of a Leader. A place in which we can sit and act from with confidence because we know we are blessed.
When we can sit back and relax in to ourselves, knowing that we are good enough, then what we do comes from a place of choosing – a place of wanting to – because it brings us joy. If we can’t sit back and rest in ourselves, then what we do will come from a need to prove our worth, or to get others to like and approve of us. Essentially this means we’re acting from a place of fear – fear that we are not good enough.
The Chinese proverb below captures this well:
‘Tension is who we think we should be, relaxation is who we are.’
If we can’t relax into who we are, because we believe that who we are is not enough, then we will always be tense, and we’ll be leading from this tense, fearful place. Our leadership will have shadowy qualities, and so will the way we allow ourselves to be led.
If you look at the Sovereign summary above you’ll see that Joy is the gateway emotion to the Sovereign archetype. This means we will not be able to access our true leadership (Sovereign) skills unless we have access to our joy. This doesn’t mean we need to be joyful all the time. Of course not. Carrying out our leadership role will include times of deep sadness, powerful anger and paralysing fear – and we will need to get the support necessary to move through these. What it does mean is that our disposition towards our leadership, our default position if you like, is one of joy. We feel joyful about what we do. We believe in what we are doing and we feel good about it, in the same way that we believe in ourselves and feel good about ourselves. Both of these things bring joy. If we are in touch with our joy and sense of goodness then we will naturally lead well, and we will want to bless and support those around us. We will give our gifts and our time freely and joyfully. If we’re enjoying what we do it will nourish and feed us and we will be less likely to get tired and burnt out. Our duties will feel less like ‘work’ and more like ‘life’.Inflated and deflated Sovereign
So we can see that, if we’re carrying this Sovereign wound of ‘Not good enough’ then this will impact our ability to access our healthy Sovereign side. Instead we end up either inflating our Sovereign side – to try to PROVE how ‘good enough’ we are, or, alternatively, we deflate in our Sovereign qualities – giving up, and accepting a place if inferiority and the frustrations and hopelessness that go with this.
Typically those of us who inflate will be drawn to Leadership roles and those who deflate will become permanent (but often reluctant) followers.
The following are characteristics of the Inflated Sovereign: Going it alone. Risk taking. Shining for approval. Super hero. On fire, Blazing. Needs to be the biggest and the best or else they’re nothing. Performing for love. Giving everything to the cause. Not accepting support. Martyr – caring too much for those you lead and sacrificing yourself for them. Not resting or caring for yourself. Never taking a day off.
These people are working hard to disprove the belief they carry. They’re trying to prove to the world that they are good enough.
The following are characteristics of the Deflated Sovereign: Hopelessness. Lack of confidence. Resentment. Cynicism. No fire in the heart – ‘I can’t’, ‘It’s too hard’, ‘I’m tired’. A sense of betrayal. Wanting to criticise and bring down those in power (whilst not willing to step up and take power themselves)
These people are giving in to the belief that they carry and saying to the world, ‘You’re right, I’m really not good enough. I’m worth very little.’
This may look like two totally different sets of people, yet there is much less difference between the two categories than may first appear – they are bound together by the identical wound that they carry – a belief that they are simply not good enough. Indeed individuals may flip between these two places, between inflation and deflation. For example a person may be in a leadership role at work where they exhibit some of the inflated traits, but at home their partner leads, and they follow and exhibit some of the deflated traits.
What is missing here is support. As I said previously, we believe that poor leadership comes from wounding in the Sovereign archetype which is caused by not believing we are ‘good enough’. This belief comes from a lack of support, a lack of blessing which in turn leads to a lack of self esteem and self belief, and a deep lack of confidence.This is a wound that many of us carry as individuals, and it is also a wound that is compounded and encouraged by the society that we live in. We are simply not given the message that we are good enough, just as we are. It starts when we are first born. I remember watching in shock as a friend’s mother told her young baby, who was crying for milk, ‘You’ll just have to wait till it’s feeding time. When you’re bringing in the money, then you’ll be able to dictate the routines of this household.’ This poor child (although clearly too young to understand this communication) will certainly not be growing up to believe he is worthy just for being him – that he will be loved and cared for no matter what. Only when he is bringing in the money will he have value, and only then will his needs be taken seriously. Many babies and children pick up a similar message, with parents not having the time to hold them or give them as much attention as they would like, but instead the child is praised for being ‘good’ or ‘quiet’ or for ‘helping’ or achieving in some way or for looking neat, or pretty. At school we are also required to perform if we wish to be approved of, and this is quite relentless throughout our childhood, with a constant requirement to improve on previous grades. There’s very little opportunity to reach a point where we are told we can rest – we are good enough. Advertising too tells us that if we want approval we need to work hard constantly – to have perfect bodies, skin, cars, houses, muscles, breasts and so on. We are not getting the message here that how we are is good enough – quite the opposite in fact. We’re being told we need to work hard and achieve or perform in order to be accepted and to be ok. To find a partner who will love us we need to starve ourselves or exercise relentlessly, or work hard to earn enough money to buy flashy cars or other paraphernalia. We need to go through prolonged beauty routines or have surgery, hair removal – the list is endless and the message is clear – for goodness sake don’t just be yourself – that’s just NOT ok. You’re not good enough just as you are. When people bring this wound in to their leadership they will find it hard to lead from an authentic place – to admit to their human limitations, to ask for guidance when they’re unsure, to ask for time off when they’re ill, to ask for support when they’re overwhelmed.
Equally, the People will not WANT their Leader to behave like this – to show any vulnerability. The People are, by and large, carrying the same Sovereign wound. They want their leader to be the one who, by some superhuman effort, achieves what they cannot – is able to reach perfection. They won’t want a leader who is like them – who has vulnerabilities, insecurities, indecisiveness, bad days etc. If they can’t stand these aspects of themselves and see them as failings, then they will not be able to tolerate a leader who is like this. They will be looking for the ‘missing’ parts of themselves in their leader, and they will demand perfection, strength, authority etc. But this is not possible. Everyone makes mistakes, even the strongest person has moments of weakness and the most authoritative person has moments of indecision.
So the dynamic is set, with both the Leader and the People buying in to a situation where the Leader is required to be superhuman. This, (being clearly impossible as he/she is human!) requires the Leader to hide certain aspects of themselves, their weakness, vulnerability, sickness etc, and so they are forced to to put these aspects in to shadow. It also requires the ‘followers’ to hide their gifts and strengths, so that they can be led, (and because they mustn’t step in and help out their leader, that wouldn’t be playing the game!) Hiding their gifts and strengths also ensures that they themselves will never run the risk of being put up in that place of impossible demands. The People expect impossible things of leaders and then sit back and watch as the cracks begin to show. They are quick to judge a leader who is failing and they struggle to see their leaders as human beings. The Leaders will often happily buy into these projections rather than questioning them, they will work hard to live up to perfection and super human requirements as this is their way of trying to show the world they are good enough.What happens if we’re not leading from Sovereign?
If we can’t rest in our true sovereignty and authority then we will resort to using contorted versions of the other archetypes in order to push through our leadership role. I’ll describe what this might look like by going through each of the other archetypes in turn, starting with the Lover:
Healthy Lover – Our Lover is the part of us that feels, it connects us with what is going on
inside. This part connects us deeply to others and allows us to be intimate.
This is the spontaneous, creative, dreaming side of us that enjoys
nature, play and sensuality. Our child-like qualities
lie here, along with our vulnerability.
Deep wound ‘I don’t love right’
Gateway Emotion – Grief
If we do not have strong healthy Sovereign energy we may inflate our Lover side and try to lead from this place. This is especially likely if we carry the lover wound – a belief that we are not lovable, or that we do not love right. We may try to be intimate with those we lead and get our connection needs met from them. Examples of this might be a boss having affair with an employee, a teacher having a relationship with a student or a Parent sexually abusing a child. We may try to be ‘friends with everyone’ or to be liked by everyone. We may not be able to set boundaries or to be the adult. We may suffer from a lack of critical thinking. We may not be able to access the gravitas that is required for the role.
This isn’t because there is anything ‘wrong’ or ‘inappropriate’ about our Lover side, it is simply that this is not the side of ourselves that healthy leadership naturally comes from. We may certainly use some of our lover skills – of dreaming, creativity and an ability to connect deeply – in parts of our leadership, but this isn’t the appropriate place to be coming from the majority of the time. It works better to get our Lover needs met elsewhere in our life and this in turn will help us to feel more complete and whole and will enable us to lead from a more joyful place.
Healthy Warrior – Our Warrior is the part of us that can bring about change in our lives
and can step out and take action in the world. It is responsible for setting
our boundaries and saying ‘No’ and ‘Stop’. The warrior has integrity
and courage and speaks the truth. Our Warrior protects us,
and those more vulnerable than ourselves.
Deep Wound ‘I don’t exist’
Gateway Emotion – Anger
If we don’t have sufficient Sovereign energy another option is to inflate our Warrior to help us lead. This will result in us leading from a bullying place: Authoritarian. Not listening. Not being flexible. Stonewalling and not listening. A confrontational challenging manner. Forcing ideas through. Shouting and fist beating. We’ve seen this style of leadership many times in films – abusing those you’re meant to be supporting and leading.
We’re more likely to resort to this kind of Leadership if we carry the Warrior wound – not really believing we exist, or we are real. If we carry this wound we will want to be taken notice of – needing to prove that we exist. It will be hard for us if people disagree with us or question our leadership or our decisions. We will be over forceful to try to avoid our fear of being invisible.
Again, there is nothing wrong with our warrior side, indeed, we will undoubtedly need to call on our healthy Warrior sides at times during our Leadership. However it is not the correct place for our leadership to be coming from. It is something we want to be able to call in when necessary. We sometimes liken this to an imaginary Queendom with the Queen and her military. The Queen needs to call on the military from time to time, and they provide an essential role, but the Queen is the leader and firmly in control. She is the one with the authority. The Military carry out her will – but they are not running the show.
Healthy Magician – Our magician is the part of us that can step back and see things from
many different points of view. Our magician can help us to re-frame situations and
see things differently. This side of us is responsible for assessing risks and
keeping us safe. Our intellect lies here, along with our ability to
transform our understanding of ourselves and the world.
Deep Wound ‘I’m bad or wrong’
Gateway Emotion – Fear
Another alternative if we don’t have sufficient Sovereign energy, is to rely instead on our Magician, inflating this side of ourselves in order to help us lead. In this case our leadership may be: Manipulative. Threatening. Paranoid. Underhand. A reign of fear. No one trusts you. Turning people in the organisation against each other. A lot is unspoken. Deliberately unclear and confusing communication. Smoke and mirrors.
We are particularly likely to rely on this kind of Leadership if we carry the wound of believing we are bad. If we have come to believe there is something fundamentally bad or wrong about us then we will find it very hard to be straightforward and clear. We will always be trying to hide our ‘badness’ in lies, threats, underhand behaviour – anything so as not to be exposed and seen for what we believe we really are. Many politicians are a good example of this type of Leadership, with the practice of ‘Spin’ being a perfect example of using Magician skills to deliberately obscure the truth.
If we’re Leading in this way we are Leading From fear. We are driven by fear rather than feeling our fear. Of course there are things to fear – we may do something that makes us look foolish, others may be better than us and usurp us, we may fail, we may make terrible mistakes and so on… But we need to face this fear and somehow make friends with it rather than avoiding feeling it and being driven by desperately trying to avoid these scenarios. This is what is meant when we say fear is the gateway emotion to our Magician side. We need to be prepared to feel our fear if we are to have healthy Magician qualities. If we are not able to feel our fear then our Magician will come out in the damaging ways described above.
I love the quote by Margaret Mitchell‘Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realise what a burden it was.’ Fear of losing a reputation is a big corruptor of genuine leadership. We need to be comfortable with our own fallibility if we are not to fall prey to these fears. We need to know how to ask for help when we’re out of our depth. Everything in life changes and we need to be able to embrace this and face the inevitable changes in our role.
‘Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.’ Anais NinBalance and Paradox in Leadership In our close animal ancestors we see the behaviours of ranking – of each animal having a specific place in the herd or group, and of leading – where one animal leads the group during a particular period. We also see the Alpha female and Alpha male phenomenon where a particular animal will be given a ‘top’ position. In Shadow Work we believe that we, as humans, still carry these instincts to rank ourselves with respect to others, to want to be the leader, or to want to shine, to be the big one. We also carry the parallel instinct of wanting to follow, to be small, not to have responsibility. These are the animal instincts that we associate with the Sovereign archetype. We believe it’s important to recognise and understand the animal instincts that we carry as humans rather than denying them. Many of us feel shame about the part of us that wants to shine, that wants to be the biggest and the best. Similarly many of us carry shame around our wish to follow, not to have to think or take charge, but to rest in someone else doing that for us. However the idea of some kind of hierarchy, with people holding different positions, seems to be part of our nature, just as we see it in nature. Rather than rejecting these sides of ourselves it’s better if we get to know them. If we acknowledge and get to know know these instincts in us then we are not unduly influenced by them, but can embrace the positive qualities and let go of aspects that don’t serve us. So it seems we carry a natural instinct to either follow, or to lead, and it seems things work better for us when we have a chance to experience both of these sides of ourselves. We are then in touch with our full humanity. We need to have times and places where we lead, and times and places where we follow. If we fix in to only one of these positions then we are repressing a part of ourselves, and this leads to shadowy behaviour. Those who are fixed in an ‘always leading’ position develop behaviours such as overconfidence, arrogance, overworking and not listening to or trusting others. This is because they never getting a chance to be a follower, to learn from another and to rest in another. Those fixed in a following position develop behaviours such as shyness, lack of confidence, not speaking up, resentment, bitterness and backstabbing, because they never get the chance to shine and to own their own power.
So if we are in a leadership role it is important that we find times and places where we follow, to keep the balance of humanity in ourselves. Interestingly there are two other Leadership qualities that also have this two sidedness to them, and require us to have a balance of each. The first of these is listening and speaking. Listening and speaking are two sides of leadership. Two sides of the same coin. An effective leader needs to listen as much as they speak. Their speech – their word – only has authority when it carries the wisdom that comes from listening carefully to all the People, and to any external advice that is relevant. The second two sided quality is the giving and receiving of support. Leaders are only true leaders if they are blessed and supported by the People. They are also only true leaders if they are able to bless and support the People in return, rather than using, abusing, bullying, coercing, belittling or ignoring them.
The paradox here is that to be a good leader we need to know how to follow, we need to know how to listen and we need to know how to receive support – these are as much an intrinsic part of leadership as are leading, speaking and guiding and supporting others.
So this gives us three simple ways to do a health check on our leadership –
is there a balance of supporting and being supported?
is there a balance of listening and speaking?
is there a balance of leading and following?
There are obviously shifts that need to be made on a societal/social level to bring about the changes needed in our leadership. However on an individual level we can start by getting in touch with the part of us that knows we are good enough just as we are, and there is no need for pretence, hiding, manipulation, bullying, or any of the other potential shadow behaviours we may express in our leadership. This can often involve first getting to know the part of us that believes we’re NOT good enough. The part that may be harshly critical or shaming or simply hopeless feeling. If we get to know and befriend this part – bringing it out of the shadows, then we will have a better chance of believing in our goodness and beginning to lead in an authentic way. Another important step towards believing in our goodness is receiving support and blessing from others – having people around us who reflect back to us our innate goodness, who believe in us no matter what and will stand by us. A good first step in this direction is to find a mentor, supervisor, counsellor or therapist who is seen on a regular basis. If we can get the support we need in order to believe we are good enough then everything in our leadership will begin to change. This, in turn, will affect those we lead and everyone else whose life we touch, as they experience us acting from a place of self worth, authenticity and true confidence. This is a radical act in a society where we have been taught from birth to believe that we are not good enough.
Shadow Work information: