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 truisms, but some days shadow working is going to sting. Those days when like Koepka, you were the best performer, problem-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.