Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Shadow Work Covers a Multitude of Sins

Written by: on March 17, 2022

Peter Northouse’s book Leadership: Theory and Practice is what is says, a relatively deep dive into leadership theory and types, while offering real-world approaches and case studies to engage theory at a practical level. In his 7th edition, Northouse also offers assessments throughout his book for deeper reflection and self-awareness.

He writes, “At its heart, leadership is about human behavior–what we do, how we do do it, and why we do it. Leadership is about the way people behave in organizations, and effective leaders are those who meet the needs of their followers, pay careful attention to group process, calm anxieties and arouse hopes and aspirations, and know how to liberate human energy and inspire people to positive action.” (295) This quote comes from Northouse’s chapter on the psychodynamic approach to leadership. Northouse continues, “The psychodynamic approach to leadership study and development focuses on the dynamics of human behavior, which are often the most difficult to understand […] Only through accepting and exploring the hidden undercurrents that affect human behavior can we begin to understand organizational life in all its complexities.” (269)

This approach is rooted in the psychological discoveries of Sigmund Freud, whom we credit as the father of modern psychology. However, it was Carl Jung who coined and developed terms such as introvert and extrovert, and expanded crucial concepts such as the shadow; these terms and concepts shape so much of clinical and popular psychology. Northouse postulates that individuals, and by extension leaders, have a core conflictual relationship theme (CCRT). This theme or pattern is played out on an inner theatre, and projected into our external relationships. This reminds me of Erving Goffman’s dramaturgy, and the backstage – frontstage split. In fact, one form of shadow work comes in the form of what’s known as psychodrama. One’s CCRT greatly impacts how one leads, and how one experiences/engages leadership. Northouse offers three basic leader-follower relationship styles, which derive from one’s CCRT: a) Dependency (leader provides nurture, safety, and protection to followers), b) Fight-flight (leaders lead by a “for us or against us” ethic. Strong boundaries form around the group, and power consolidated around the leader.), c) Pairing (As a response to anxiety or perceived alienation, followers gang up against the leader who is seen as an enemy of the group.) The purpose of shadow work is to get these above relationship themes out of one’s internal world, see them, and learn to more graciously and effectively navigate them. Such self-awareness and healing perpetuates personal and communal wholeness.

Northouse writes, “People often assume, at an unconscious level, that the leader or organization can and should offer protection and guidance similar to that offered by parents in earlier years.” (302) The Freudian persuasion would posit that how we follow (and how we lead) is greatly impacted by our relationship with our earliest authority figures. However, this perspective is often criticized for being too narrowly focused on parental impact. Northouse notes that this approach is often criticized due to his narrow roots in mental illness, its focus on dysfunction, and its orientation around atypical rather than typical leadership behavior. (307) However, If the psychodynamic leadership approach allows for a broad psychological approach, particularly Jungian, then this approach is highly valuable for shaping leaders and cultivating healthy cultures. Northouse writes, “Another strength is that the psychodynamic approach involves an in-depth and systemic investigation of a single person, group, event, or community. It consists not only of an analysis of the self but also of the self in relation to others and to the context in which he or she exists.” (307) In Jungian terms, this approach allows leaders to access their own shadow, and the collective shadow of the group they lead.

As Northouse does throughout his book, he offers options for applying theory to practice. He suggests group coaching as an opportunity for leadership to engage in the psychodynamic approach. He writes, “Guided by an experienced external group facilitator, group coaching brings a group of leaders together to reflect on their interpersonal relationships, work practices leadership styles, decision-making practices, and organizational culture.” (309) When done well, this sort of facilitation offers both individual and group work. It can be conducted rather clinically, which has merits, particularly when a culture is particularly toxic. However, I have not seen much success there. Often, the above mentioned leader-follower relationship dynamics are too hot and volatile to address openly in the group. The most meaningful work I have benefitted from and facilitated personally has come when separate space is made for leaders to engage in this work through shadow-informed spiritual direction and/or psychodrama.

The underlying assumption of the psychodynamic approach is that as an individual seeks relationship with their shadow, or internal complex relationships, those dynamics integrate, can be positively accessed, and not wreak havoc among their followers. Of course, it is equally important for leaders to protect themselves from the internal projections and transferences. I will avoid getting into details about these dynamics, but shadow work works both ways – when leaders engage in the psychodynamic approach, specifically shadow work, the community is protected from the leader’s shadowed and unintegrated self. Likewise, the leader is also given tools for dealing with the shadowy relationship dynamics of their followers. The psychodynamic approach is not magic, but it offers language and tools for leaders and communities to investigate the “hidden landscape” within themselves and their group. Northouse’s psychodynamic approach, shadow work, and psychodrama, when facilitated well, covers a multitude of sins.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

12 responses to “Shadow Work Covers a Multitude of Sins”

  1. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Ty Michael, I always learn a lot from your in- depth connections to psychology and psychodynamics. You mentioned that “The most meaningful work I have benefitted from and facilitated personally has come when separate space is made for leaders to engage in this work through shadow-informed spiritual direction and/or psychodrama.”

    Can you elaborate more on “shadow-informed spiritual direction and/or psychodrama” and suggest 1 or 2 great books on the topic?

    • Jonathan, I am so honored and glad to hear this. I have cultivated shadow work informed spiritual direction and psychodrama primarily through experience and retreat facilitation. Some of the most helpful books have come from two authors, Robert Moore and Robert Johnson.

      Owning Your Own Shadow – Johnson
      Inner Gold – Johnson
      Archetype of Initiation – Moore

      What intrigues you to know more in the area of shadow work?

    • Also Jonathan, here is the link to me Spiritual Direction page on my website. This gives some language around SD and shadow work from my perspective.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, you always offer us such depth in your posts! How would recommend an organization facilitate the type of psychodynamic approach and shadow work? Can that be brought into an organization or do people need to access that outside the organization. Also, you use the phrase “unintegrated self,” is that the same or similar to Friedman’s undifferentiated?

    • Roy, thanks for the encouragement! Yes, this work can been appropriate introduced in a variety of settings. It takes some pre-work with basic concepts such as core emotions, embodiment, and projection/transference can be highly valuable in a church or corporate setting. Also, I’d say those two terms align with each other quite a bit. Friedman’s “undifferentiated” leaders are those who have unintegrated parts…meaning they’ve projected their shadow onto others, and war with it in them. This goes back to the fallacy of empathy. When leaders are undifferentiated they become enmeshed with the “squeaky wheel”. Friedman says, “The alternative to the empathy approach is one of ‘promoting responsibility for self in another through challenge’ (135). Jungians would echo this; one must take ownership of their own shadow.

    • Also Roy, how would you imagine shadow work facilitation possibly helping in your context?

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Michael, in reading through Leadership, would you recommend pairing any of the assessments Northouse provides on the various leadership topics with the shadow work or is it too different?

    • Hey Kayli, If I understand your question, I believe you’re asking if shadow work can be introduced in Northouse’s various leadership styles/approaches, correct? In short, I think it can. He specifically addresses this in the Psychodynamic approach, but where there are people, there will be opportunity for shadow work. This is heightened in a church context where the transferences of parishioner onto pastor, and projections of pastor onto parishioner can be intense.

      Do you have one approach you’re curious about?

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Michael: I liked how Northouse offers options for applying different leadership styles. It brings the theory part of leadership into the practical realm, the practice part in the real world. Is there one leadership style that resonates with you in your position with George Fox Univ.?

  5. Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the Skills Approach to leadership offers valuable language and a new pathway for employees to take “leadership” of their areas of influence. I think it also could help redefine certain employees’ job descriptions to better suite them. I’d like to think this approach has language for why I chose the job I’m in. How do you see the skills approach within your context at NWC?

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Dang bro, I felt like I just attended a doctoral level psychology class! Love it, especially hearing your take on Northouse in light of Jung and Freud!

    The shadows you speak of provide an interesting conversation piece, and one that is too often overlooked in the process of leadership development. I very much appreciate that this sounds to be an important piece for you in your work with leaders. If I were closer, I would bop on over and sit through some sessions with you!

    I also appreciate your thought on group work as being less effective. Back in the day as a social work student, I used to lead group therapy for addicts and domestic abusers. It was very interesting, and sadly, quite ineffective, in my opinion. They were there because they were court mandated. I agree, that to really work through those shadows, that is best done in the context of one-on-one.

  7. mm Andy Hale says:

    The coach approach to leadership is liberating, both as a person who has been the recipient and practitioner. Too many leaders think they have to have the answer for every situation. When leaders can empower their people by asking good questions rather than giving “sage” advice, the individuals are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and care for their work.

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