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October 2010


The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Power of Your True Self


by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson (Harper Collins Publishers, 2010)


What are the big take-aways?


The three essays that make up this book all deal with the concept which psychologist Carl Jung first termed the “shadow,” the dark and hidden parts of ourselves as individuals and as a collective humanity that influence our behavior. Each of the three authors offers a somewhat different perspective on the shadow’s origins, dynamics, and how to use it as a potentially liberating learning tool. In short, the overall idea is that as we acknowledge, embrace and move beyond our dualistic nature as human beings, the shadow’s influence dissolves and we become more whole and more powerful people. Chopra’s chapter describing the shadow and how to work with it (“The Shadow”) was the most analytical in its invocation of evidence from various disciplines, Ford’s (“Making Peace with Ourselves, Others and the World”) was the most practical, and Williamson’s (“Only Light Can Cast Out Darkness”) the most spiritual.


Why did I like it?


While I also responded positively to the pieces by Chopra and Williamson, it was primarily Debbie Ford’s chapter that resonated with me as a leadership coach. According to all the authors, every single one of us has a shadow and Ford’s essay, “Making Peace with Ourselves, Others and the World” offers useful case examples and practical steps for understanding, uncovering, integrating – and benefitting from the gifts of – the shadow. She suggests strategies for identifying patterns of behavior and thought which serve as red-flag indicators of the forces within yourself that may be getting you in trouble or holding you back. In this way, her message is not unlike Kegan and Lahey’s in the previously-reviewed Immunity to Change, she just offers a very different system of self-inquiry for achieving similar results: removing barriers to change and promoting access to energy, health and human potential.


In what situations would this be useful?


The Shadow Effect is going to be most useful to a reader who is at least open to considering its underlying assumptions (i.e., the shadow is real and everybody has one) and its argument (that examination of, and engagement with, the shadow yields positive outcomes). This book might be of particular interest to a leader who notices that s/he grapples publicly or privately with issues of self-sabotage, anger, an addiction or obsession, the “impostor syndrome” (the fear that you’re a phony or not the “real thing”) or other major dynamic that is impeding full leadership effectiveness. It could also inform the perspective of a leader in a change movement whose mission is to battle the large-scale manifestations of the collective human shadow: fear, discrimination, hate and violence. To those two types of leaders, the book will offer compassion and hope for a solution that is as worthwhile – and perhaps life-saving – as it is difficult.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


I think this book has some intriguing parallels and contrasts with Buddha’s Brain (reviewed earlier in the Leadership Library), so I suggest it as a pairing to try. For some, reading this book might lead to an interest in the other writings, recordings and training events that have been designed by the authors to assist in a reader’s further personal exploration of “the shadow effect.” I am not familiar with these resources and therefore can’t recommend any of them in particular. For other readers, the book might serve as a wake-up call that leads to a decision to seek the resources of a counselor, a 12-step program or other professional assistance. For still others, The Shadow Effect might serve as a call-to-action shared in the supportive company of like-minded people (such as a non-profit or service organization, or a faith-based community).


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