What can I learn about leadership from a groundhog? That’s a question I bet you’ve never asked yourself.  Don’t worry. Until recently, I hadn’t either.

That changed on April 1st when a new blanket of snow covered the ground. I began to mourn the perpetual state of winter and had a random thought about Punxsutawney Phil.

Every February 2nd, a large woodchuck (named Punxsutawney Phil) is taken from his wintertime hole in Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if the creature sees his shadow, we need to brace for six more weeks of winter. Supposedly, if he doesn’t see his shadow it means that spring is right around the corner. This year he didn’t see his shadow! Winter should be a distant memory… It turned out Punxsutawney Phil emerged from a den of lies!

I found myself getting irritated at this large woodland rodent. Why did his prediction of an early spring turn out so blatantly wrong (besides the fact that a groundhog isn’t a trained meteorologist)? He didn’t see his shadow. Isn’t that a good thing?

This prompted me to think about my own leadership journey.  I recalled times I was sure that situations would turn out one way and they ended up going the opposite. In a spirit of unwarranted optimism, I predicted an “early spring” only to endure a longer “winter”.  For the first time, I saw a potential similarity between a groundhog and myself. Namely, my failure to see my shadow doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

As human beings, we all have a “shadow” side to our personality. Maybe you can identify with one of the following examples…

Some of us are analytical. That is a beautiful thing…until we are stuck in inaction because we can’t overcome the fear of what could go wrong.

Others have a high value for excellence. This is amazing…until failing at something causes our whole world to collapse. The need for perfection in our self and in others is a cruel master.

Some of us are born leaders. The world needs those gifts…except when we run carelessly over people because we fear being taken advantage of.

Others are extremely relational. We can connect with people from a variety of backgrounds… but these qualities mask a fear of rejection. We adjust our actions to make the people around us happy and in the process, lose sight of who we truly are. 

One of the greatest dangers to effective leadership is ignoring your shadow.

There is good news. Unlike the legend of Punxsutawney Phil, when we see our shadow, it often initiates a season of growth. Facing our shadow might not be pleasant, but it can lead to a true “spring” in our inner world.  It can also bring life to the people around us. The fact is they probably already see and experience the effects of our shadow whether we do or not.

Maybe next February I’ll focus a little less on whether a woodchuck is seeing his shadow and spend more time considering if I am seeing mine.

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