You’ve heard the phrase ‘a chip off the old block’? Well, the "shadow of the leader" is a similar concept. It describes the phenomenon where leaders, through their likes and dislikes tend to shape culture and behaviour. Coined by Sean Delany the "shadow of a leader" is a helpful metaphor. Think of organisations you know and how the personality and behaviour of the leader influences their culture.
Companies as they grow from startup experience an acute version of the "shadow of the leader". The entrepreneurial culture that won early customers may need to be formalized. Plans on the back of a napkin no longer suffice. Their frenetic energy can drive them out of control.
To make this cultural shift, the leader’s behaviour needs to change. Saying that things will change is not good enough. Handing off cultural development to a naive HR Department won't work. It’s about actual personal leadership behavioural change. New processes are required. Clarifying purpose and getting the right team aligned in the right direction are top of the agenda.
To grow successfully, the leaders shadow needs to expand and become more powerful. It must move from entrepreneurial pursuit to the practice of new behaviours like delegating and motivating a team. The "shadow of the leader" makes clear why and how we behave. It becomes the purposeful leadership force that drives culture.