Think back to a time when you were still figuring it all out. A bit lost, confused, or just starting out in a new job, industry, sport or phase of life.
How many of us have had people to help us along the way? And because of that support, how many of us have therefore risen out of someone’s shadow in our lives or careers?
A parent, boss, mentor, teacher, or coach…
They led the way and guided us to where we wanted to go. They taught us lessons and morals, how to believe in ourselves, showed us how to overcome challenges, and to see the opportunities around us…
They prepared us to step out of their shadow and take the lead in our own life.
Take a moment and think of who those people are or were in your life…
Now, ask yourself, “who is standing in MY shadow right now?”
I’ve had a great support system throughout my life – family, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends. I’ve had the safety of many shadows in which to learn from before building up the courage to step out from them and into the stadium lights of my own life.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, while on the beach with my family, that I was reminded that there are now people walking in my shadow.
My wife and I were playing with our girls at the beach, and in this specific moment I was with our youngest. I had my back to the water and sun, with her in front of me. Not thinking about it, my position cast a shadow onto her.
She stood there playing with the sand, but as I backed up towards the water and my shadow left her, I noticed her look at the ground and walk towards me.
I thought she just wanted to wander, so I took a few more steps back to give her space. Again, she followed me, or more specifically my shadow. Once I stopped and she was shaded again, she stopped.
At that moment, I was hit with this realization and metaphor that I have people in my life who need the support and guidance from a trusted shadow… someone to lead them until they are ready to take on the world themselves.
It’s not that I didn’t understand my role as a father… there was just something about that little girl running back into my shadow that opened my eyes to something more… perhaps that there is a bigger game to play, more significant responsibility, and higher stakes.
We all have people in our lives that look for our guidance, protection, wisdom and leadership.
So are we playing big enough in this role to help them grow out of our shadow?
Out of the Shadows and onto the Field
Paying it forward to those that look up to us is both a tremendous responsibility and an even greater honor.
We have so many roles to play in this space to ensure that we are doing our part to set them on the path to make a significant and powerful impact in the world.
In my mind, here are the core roles we need to play to put them in the best position to step out onto the field and into the spotlight so that they can play their chosen game at the best of their ability.
Be a guide
As we start out in the world, we are surrounded by rules, laws, suggestions, norms, standards and other guardrails that a society, school, business or other type of organization expects us to abide by.
Not everyone naturally knows what to do (or not to do).
Be their guide to help them navigate their current phase of life so that they can learn and adapt to their new surroundings, and start out on solid footing.
Be a protector
While the parent / child analogy resonates most with me here, there are parallels that we can draw to any stage of life.
As parents, we are always making sure our children don’t stick their finger in an electrical outlet, put small things in their mouth or place their hand on the hot stove. We know these things will hurt them so we remain watchful and protect them.
So, what is the “hot stove” in the corporate or organizational environment?
There will always be things that people need protection from as they figure things out. Be their protector during this critical time.
Be a mentor
Many times, those that spend time in your shadow will be hungry to learn from you because they want to reach a similar level of success.
Mentor them and teach them where you struggled, what you learned, and how you took advantage of the opportunities in your life to make it to where you are today.
Help them to avoid the mistakes you’ve made in order to reach their destination faster.
Be a coach
Sometimes those in your shadow will want to be given the answers.
While there may be a time and place for that, there will likely be far more times when they need to discover that they already have the answers. They just need some help bringing them to the surface.
Coach them through their challenges by bringing out new levels of awareness or perspectives that will allow them to explore things differently and create their own answers, action steps and path forward.
Be a launch pad
When it is time for them to step into the spotlight, let them know they are ready. And give them that final nudge if need be.
We all know that there is always more to learn or more skills to gain and master, and yet we also know that at some point, the only way to really learn and grow is to go all in – cut the safety nets and take off the training wheels.
Let them know when their time comes, challenge them to step onto the field, and help launch them into their spotlight.
After they take those steps out from your shadow, be there for them when they need help.
Be their support and challenge them when they need it. Yes, they will be out of your shadow, but at times there is always a point where they need a sense of the familiar – a safe space. Be there for them and then get them back out on the field.
Give them what they need to play bigger and cast a larger shadow than you ever did – it’s a gift worth giving.
Discussion Question: So who is standing in your shadow right now, and what role do you need to double down on to prepare them to step out onto the field and into the spot light of their own lives?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."