Posted in Leadership

Shadow Working: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Some of our successes will be in the shadows of others. And figuring out how to respond well to “shadow working” is key to effective leadership.

Just this past Sunday, a professional golfer named Brooks Koepka won one of the four biggest golf tournaments of the year, the PGA Championship.  It’s his second Major win this year and it earned him $2 million in prize money. Yet, most of the attention after the golf tournament was given to another. Koepka’s win was in the shadow of another golfer he just beat at golf, yep, Tiger Woods.

Yes, Koepka did get to hold up the trophy and he got to bank some $2 million dollars. But what must it have felt like to be the best golfer on the course, and every time you hit a ball, spectators were leaving the hole you were playing to try to make their way to get a glimpse of another?

On our best days, we’ll embrace Jesus’ teaching of “the last shall be first,” and maybe believe what my friend Todd Adkins says, that “A big part of leadership is recognizing that your fruit often grows on other people’s trees.” Those are both true. But some days shadow working is going to sting. Those days when like Koepka, you were the best performer, problems-solver, minister, or contributor, and yet, someone else gets the fanfare?

Shadow working is going to happen. It’s going to happen despite your contribution being the best contribution given. Or despite your efforts being the reason the project happened. Or despite the idea being yours. Or despite the music in the worship gathering being impactful because of the work and prayers you put into it; there will be others who, at times, will get the appreciation, limelight and accolades.

God created you to be exactly who He wanted you to be. And when we’re working in God’s given design, the work and opportunity He’s given should be all you need. But there are days when the person with the bigger personality, the bigger platform (literally or figuratively), or has regaled history will cast a shadow on your work and it won’t feel great.

So, here are some ways to manage the feelings of shadow working—

  • Assume the best…that the person who has the spotlight isn’t trying to take it away from you, it’s just some people naturally attract attention.
  • Manage your expectations…some work is meant to be shadow work. And that kind of work will create limited appreciation. So, don’t expect a parade when your role, at best, will get you a pat on the back.
  • Understand who God called you to be…and if God’s design means you’re in the shadows of others, well, relish that you are getting to do exactly what God has given you to do.
  • Cast light on others…don’t be a bitter shadow worker. Celebrate the work, and even celebrate whatever contribution the other worker is getting. The golfer Koepka understood this. In his post-round interviews Koepka celebrated Tiger Woods and acknowledged why the fans would leave him to flock to Tiger and what he was doing on the course. It’s easier to allow others to have the limelight when your value is determined by a God that loves you with our without your contributions.

I’ve received public credit for work that was done by others. And I’ve also watched others get credit for work I had done. And there’s been times I believe my contribution was the most valuable contribution, but because another person had performance history, an established platform, or just a winsome personality, they got the attention. And on my best days, I’m over it quickly. On others, well, I’ve needed to manage around it. So, if you’re a shadow worker, manage around any entitlement feelings; and most of all, my hope is your value is determined by our loving God.

 

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Expressed permission to “Get Back!”

Who’s telling you to “get back!”? Who has the authority to step in and tell you to “step back” from something you’re doing?

You’ve likely seen it, but you may not know what it’s called. Or actually, what the person is called. Most college and professional football teams have a “get back coach.” During the week they have another role with the team (strength and conditioning coach or maybe a linebackers’ coach). But on game day, they have the charge to keep over-zealous players and coaches off the playing field (who aren’t supposed to be on field).

Why? Well people get hurt on football sidelines when they venture too far out. Also, their team can get penalized for crossing into the marked box where referees and players are roaming.

In a very odd scene, you have a head football coach who’s flailing and yelling on the sideline, and at the same time, inching closer and closer to the game action. And then behind him, you have the “get back coach.” And for some coaches prone to wander, the “get back coach” is literally touching him at all times or within grabbing distance at all times. He’s ready to grab the coach’s waistband and pull him back.

All this to help the wandering coach avoid injury for himself or a penalty for the team.

Who in your life has the authority to metaphorically grab your waistband and put you back into place? Who’s keeping you from harming yourself or the “team” (church) you lead?

“Get Back” Situations

If you were to make a distasteful comment in a meeting that most people would choose to ignore because you’re the boss, who’s going to come to you directly and let you know you crossed a line? What if you lingered too long after church talking to a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse? Who can pull you aside and let you know you ventured out too far? If in an email you wrote a sentence that caused harm to others or was mean-spirited, who’s going to tell you it was too much?

Who can tell you the last 2% and not fear retribution? Who loves you enough to be a truth-teller?

Expressed Permission

We may think we already have “get back” people in our life. But they’re not official or effective until you’ve given them expressed permission to speak bluntly to you. They’ve got to have permission to figuratively, or literally, pull you back by your waistband to avoid harm to yourself or the areas and people you lead.

When’s the last time someone you trust confronted you and told you to “get back?” If it’s been awhile, you’ve either not arranged for this coaching in your life or you’re not prone to wander. My guess, you’ve not yet given someone permission to help you when you can’t see you need “get back” help.

If you don’t give this permission, most people won’t do it. And this is especially true for those of us who are clergy and/or have tenure or positional authority. There’s a natural tendency toward being perceived as untouchable or “unchallengeable.” You’ve got to ask for it, and then when one of your “get back coaches” grabs you by the waistband, well, heed their warning.

If head football coaches making millions of dollars a year put a “get back coach” in place just to help avoid 15 yard penalties, than maybe as church and family leaders we should realize our stakes are much higher and we should put them in place too.

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Leadership Blind Spot Automation

It beeps. It lights up. It creates awareness that your casual over-the-shoulder can’t achieve. Vehicles have come a long way in blind spot technology.

It use to require a head turn of some seventy-five degrees. Then manufactures made the mini-mirrors to be added to your side view mirror. And now, automated blind spot checkers.

I doubt most of us have kept progressing in our leadership blind spot technology as vehicle manufactures have for their cars. In fact, as we’ve gone further in our leadership, our blind spots may have been ignored and probably even gotten larger.

Because we’re the “leader”, the person riding shotgun with us may feel less freedom to warn us of our blind spots. And because we’re the “boss”, our ego may prohibit us from asking said shotgun rider for their input.

We feel like we have so much experience, we can just sense our blind spots. “Surely I’m self-aware enough, right?” Yep, the more longevity and leadership success means we may have just broadened the width of our blind spots.

For these reasons, we need more sophisticated blind spot checking.

Blind Spot Automation

Awareness

It begins with admitting you have a problem. “Hi, my name is Brian, and I know I have leadership blind spots.” If you struggle to say that, well, you’ve definitely got blind spots. They could be significant blind spots like character or competency. Usually though, they’re areas that didn’t use to be a problem, but over time without intentionality, the blind spot has become a reality. Are you aware you have blind spots? Can your self-awareness skills identify them?

Ask

No matter how self-aware you may be, you’ll still need a second opinion. And that means you’ll have to ask others. And when you do, ask with assumption that these blind spots do in fact exist. Your inquiry shouldn’t be, “Do I have any blind spots?” But should be more like, “I realize I get into my own world, habits, and passionate about my work, and I know that means I have some leadership blind spots. What are a couple areas you’ve seen where I’m most likely to be susceptible?”

Just assuming they exist and framing in a way that gives the person permission to answer candidly without feeling like they’re attacking you will go a long way in getting useful feedback.

Assessments

While I do think personality assessments should always be considered 10% accurate, nor do I see their results as something that should hold a person hostage to behaviors that are “hard wired in.” I do feel like the results can be a tool. A tool that’s printed that can tell you in black and white how your actions and personality may be perceived by others.

In the most recent personality assessment I took, its results reminded me of some areas that are square in my blind spot. But there were some results that were new to me. For example, when note mentioned, “[Brian] may rely too much on past experience.” I’d never considered this before, but because I became aware of this possibility, I was able to investigate. If you haven’t used a personality assessment, I encourage you to find a free or affordable one and see if it will create awareness for you.

Accountability

Who, without you asking for it, can make you aware of your leadership blind spots? Who have you given permission to be a “back seat driver” and let you know when you’re merging into an area that could cause a wreck?

You’re a leader. You get things done. You care about others. But a leader who cares about those they lead will make sure at least one of the things you get done is identifying and eliminating your leadership blind spots.

 

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