Reboot Podcast #14 - Shadow and Leadership - with Parker Palmer and Jerry Colonna
Page 1 of 18
Welcome to the Reboot podcast. As Carl Jung repeatedly declared, "Our goal is wholeness, not
perfection. People living soul-centrically are not untroubled or unchallenged, they are not beyond
experiencing times, confusion, mistakes and tragedies. They have by no means healed all their
wounds, they are simply on a path to wholeness to becoming fully human with all the inevitable
defects and distresses inherent in any human story and with all the promise held by our uniquely
human imagination." That quote if from Bill Plotkin in his book, 'Nature and the Human Soul:
Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World'.
Who are you? What do you believe to be true? What do you bring consciously to the world? And
even more interesting, what do you bring unconsciously to your work, to your organization, to
your relationships? How does that which you have either denied about yourself or feel
uncomfortable about shape your life positively or negatively? What lies in this unseen shadow
and why is it important for you to explore? The work of today's guest shows up in just about
everything we do at Reboot. From the way we engage our clients, to how we've shaped our peer
groups, to the kinds of conversations we hold in these podcasts. His contributions have also
greatly influenced the leadership work we do in our boot camps. So we really are truly honored
and thrilled to have one of our key teachers, Parker Palmer join Jerry in a discussion on a very
important and powerful topic; shadow in leadership.
Just real quick, before we start our episode, we wanted to remind you to check out our website at
Reboot.io/Podcast; we have tons of extra information on this discussion including more on
Parker, his books as well as links to all the quotes, poems, books these two mention in the
episode. That's Reboot.io/Podcast. Now on with the episode.
Jerry Colonna: Hi Parker, thank you so much for joining us today.
Parker J. Palmer: It's great to be with you Jerry, always.
Jerry: Yeah, it's – you know, just seeing your face, it's a delight as we've talked over the years
and as our friendship has developed, you know that in addition to having this deep
admiration for you on a personal basis, I also hold this profound, intellectual admiration
for the work that you have done and consider you one of my teachers in this regard. One
of the thoughts that I had about our conversation today would be that we work with the
notion of shadow as it shows up in leadership. As you are familiar with, we do these CEO
and soon-to-be co-founder boot camps where we really try to look at the questions
associated with leadership both from a pragmatic-practical perspective because so often
people are thrust into a leadership position without really any training and how to do the
job. How to be CEO and not just do the task but also through the lens of what I often
refer to is kind of a radical self-inquiry. Who am I? What do I believe to be true about the
world? What do I bring consciously and relevant to this conversation, what do I bring
perhaps even unconsciously? If we can speak about that in that way to this position and
even more specifically, how does that, which I have either denied about myself or feel
uncomfortable about myself, end up shaping the organization positively and negatively –
Page 2 of 18
Jerry: – within us. So, I guess the first question I have is, how would you define the shadow in
Parker: Well, let me say Jerry that this teaching-mentoring stuff is very mutual so this is the kind
of conversation that I always welcome with you because I learn so much from it and have
– over the years we have journeyed together.
Jerry: Thank you.
Parker: So you know, let me take it back a long ways, starters to Socrates; we often draw on
contemporary or more modern wisdom traditions for this insight that we live life from the
inside out that what's going on inside us is as important as what we are doing on the
outside. But you know, way, way back, Socrates famously said, "The unexamined life is
not worth living" and I am now old enough to be able to amend Socrates. I think you
have to wait till you get to a certain age to do that and my amendment to Socrates is, if
you choose to live an unexamined life, please do not take a job that involves other people
Parker: – because you are going to do tremendous damage if you don’t really understand that
very tricky, inner terrain. And as you know, from the piece that I wrote called 'Leading
From Within', I sort of start out by saying that a leader could be defined as a person who
has power to create conditions for a group of folks, those working with and/or under the
leader. Conditions that are either as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell and that
one of the leader's first responsibility is to take that kind of inner journey, do that kind of
Socratic self-examination that allows one to not get rid of the shadow because you'll
never get rid of the shadow. The interesting thing about a shadow is that the closer you
get to the light, the longer the shadow becomes and that's an image that has power for me
because I have experienced it not only in the physical world but in the psychological and
spiritual world as well. You see a lot of it in religious organizations where leaders feel or
people project upon leaders that they are standing very close to the light, to the source
and if those leaders absorb that sort of projection, their shadow becomes very long and
very dangerous. So, the issue is not how do we get rid of these shadows, these
unconscious elements of ourselves, these parts of ourselves that have power over us but
we don’t recognize the parts, we don’t know how to name them which gives them even
more power. The issue is not getting rid of them, the issue is becoming so self-aware
about them that they no longer have the kind of power that they have when they operate
unconsciously. I think lots of people are familiar with that from therapeutic settings. So
you go into a therapeutic setting with a problem that, as far as you are concerned, is all
about the other person or those people and a good therapist helps you understand those
people aren’t here, the other person isn’t here, we can't work with that but we can work
with whatever it is in you that's conspiring to create this problem. That's often shadow
stuff that you are not aware of and I think we can identify particular shadows in leaders
that we have seen time and time again and remind ourselves as leaders that these are
Page 3 of 18
things in relation to which we need to maintain constant vigilance, same as where we
have to continually examine our lives to make sure these particular shadows aren’t
creeping out and darkening the situation for others.
Jerry: You know, as you're describing that, through my own personal work and the work I do as
a coach, I am very comfortable with and familiar with that notion of bringing into
consciousness that which we will often externalize and in a sense, it often feels that not
only have we denied the attributes of our self, the traits of our self and put them in Robert
Bly – what Robert Bly called the 'long black bag' behind us but that we deny ourselves
the opportunity of the process by which we could actually reach back into that bag and
probably look forward. I'm reminded of something that I read just recently, again in
Sharon Salzberg's beautiful book 'Loving Kindness' and I'm going to read a little bit to
you, this little story because I think you'll enjoy it. She writes, "The Taoist philosopher,
Chuang Tzu told this story: There was a man displeased by the sight of his own shadow
and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The
method he hit upon was to run away from them. So, he got up and ran but every time he
put his foot down, there was another step while his shadow kept up with him without the
slightest difficulty. He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast
enough. So he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally dropped dead. He
failed to realize that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish and if
he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps."
Parker: Beautiful, yeah. Perfect and an instant analogy to so many real-life situations that we can
think about right now.
Jerry: Say more.
Parker: Well, I just seen so many leaders run faster and faster and faster as if that were the
solution; trying to escape that which can't be escaped which is of course themselves –
Parker: – as [Inaudible 0:09:13] I think it was famously said, 'Wherever you go, there you are.'
Jerry: That's right.
Parker: I mean, I can't count over the years, the number of retreats I have gone on, or the number
of vacations that I have taken thinking, 'Getting away from all of this will fix everything,
all the misery I'm feeling right now.' I had simply forgotten that I take myself on
vacation; so after the first dinner or the first night of good sleep, there's the misery again,
Parker: I'm there, I bring it with me. So it's a lot about – it is exactly as the Chuang Tzu story
says and Sharon Salzberg's writing is very, very beautiful; she's a terrific teacher. She
Page 4 of 18
knows a lot and so as the Chuang Tzu story says, we have to take responsibility for
ourselves and the first step in taking responsibility for ourselves is to stand in the shade,
to sit down. Those are all powerful images of what it means to begin a process of self-
examination, to become familiar with what I call the 'inner terrain' of our lives and to
realize that we have choices to make about where we stand in that terrain. But we won't
begin to make those choices until we become acquainted with it and running fast in the
external world is really a way of evading self-examination. So busyness isn’t going to do
the job and I understand how hard it is for some leaders to hear that because leadership is
hard work and a lot of busyness is required just to keep up with the white-water of
whatever world the leader is in. But there has to be – I've been down the Grand Canyon
three times on a rafting trip, a 10-day trip, and I was so fascinated just to see on that first
trip, how a boatman would – on this rushing river with some of the most challenging
white-water rapids in the world, would find an eddy at the side of the stream where there
would actually be a backflow that would slowly take you upstream. So, if you missed a
beach where you wanted to land for lunch, you'd get into that back-flowing side-slip and
the boat would back up and you could rest. That was a huge image for me about there's
always a place in a white-water to slow down, to back up, to take stock without denying
that you have to get back in the river in some of these challenging, leadership jobs.
Jerry: It reminds me of that line from David Wagoner's poem 'Lost' "When you are lost in the
woods, stand still."
Parker: Right, exactly yeah.
Jerry: "You don’t keep walking."
Parker: Yeah, and he is – as I recollect that poem – I love that poem too Jerry and as I recollect
it, he says, "This tree, this bush, they know where they are." Trust that knowledge and be
with it by standing still.
Jerry: Yeah, I think the challenge is for all of us and I think you say it so well in that essay,
'Leading From Within' which is in 'Let Your Life Speak'; the challenge is that as the
Chuang Tzu story tells, standing still often means stepping into the shade.
Jerry: And you know, you're right – to quote you to you, "Leaders need not only the technical
skills to manage the external world, all of that busyness. They need the spiritual skills to
journey inwards toward the source –" and you write this, "– of both shadow and light."
Jerry: And there is an intuitive response I think we as humans have, which is to shy away from
that which is painful, and to move towards that which we believe will give us relief.
Page 5 of 18
Jerry: And this work, this work of living out the notion of the examined life often means
confronting that which we don’t want to see. That's why it's in the shadow.
Parker: Absolutely, it's very hard work, it's very demanding work. The reward, however, is
immense. I mean, we are all yearning for something called wholeness; I have never
known human being who didn’t want to feel like and live as a whole person. Well,
wholeness means the whole Kiolbassa, as we say in Wisconsin or –
Jerry: [Laughs] With a few cheese curds on the side –
Parker: [Laughs] Right, cheese curds, you've been in our city so – but we won't go there because
that's a harder topic than the shadow. [Laughter] It's more challenging. So, you know,
what we have to understand is that we will never achieve wholeness if we cannot
ultimately say, "I am not only my light, my strengths, my gifts, my virtues, my debility, I
am also my shadow. I am my failures, I am my fears, I am those potholes that I keep
falling into, I am all of the above." Somebody once pointed out to me that when you go
buy apple juice at the store, you get stuff in a glass bottle that you can see right through
because it's pasteurized and processed and filtered. But if you get whole apple juice, it's
got seeds and chunks of skin and stem and it's murky. There's a sediment at the bottom;
it's the most enriching kind. It has all the vitamins and minerals in it but it doesn’t have
that crystalline purity that we associate with the apple juice we want to buy. So, human
wholeness is the same way, you know, there's a lot of murkiness. There's a lot of bits and
pieces of stuff that we don’t know what to do with but to be whole means to be able to
claim all of it as who we are. So you know, in my own case as you will know, one
manifestation of my shadow has been three deep dives into severe clinical depression
where I lived, on three different occasions, for months at a time often wondering if this
was the day when I should end my life because the life I was living was not worth living.
Of course, I am eternally grateful that, for whatever reason, I was able to live another day
and reclaim my health. But reclaiming my health meant acknowledging not only to
myself but eventually to the people I work with, to my readers, to the folks who listen to
my talks or attend my workshops acknowledging that three times in my life, I have fallen
into this deep depression which in our society has often been a taboo subject because it
represents some kind of weakness that "strong, successful people" especially men –
Jerry: Especially men.
Parker: – especially men don’t have to experience because they are too strong and too smart and
too successful for that. I think one of the best books written about depression among men
has a brilliant title and it's called, 'I Don’t Want to Talk About It.'
Jerry: Ah, Terrence Real.
Parker: I don’t want to talk about it. This literature as well as I do and the experience. So you
know, I finally found myself writing a line that went something like, 'Wholeness does not
mean perfection. Wholeness means acknowledging our wounds as well as our strengths,
Page 6 of 18
saying, I am all of the above.' Leonard Cohen says it beautifully, "Forget your perfect
offering, ring the bells that still can ring. There is a crack in everything, that's how the
light gets in." And that's in a poetic way of saying what we are saying here, that the great
reward of becoming honest first with yourself about your shadow as well as your light
and then with others is wholeness. And one of wonderful things about the journey
towards wholeness, which I don’t think anyone ever achieves perfectly with perfection,
but there are certainly degrees of it that in my life at least I can feel. One of the ways to
put the great reward of being on that journey towards wholeness is that you come to feel
more at home in your own skin and for that reason, you are also – you also come to feel
more at home in the world because until you have owned your own shadow, you are
always in the business of projecting it on other people or other situations. It's always his
fault or her fault or their fault or 'If only I could have a better team to work with' or 'If
only I could have a better board' or whatever it may be, you are not – there may be
problems in that area but you are not making good judgments about them when you
haven’t come to terms with the shadow parts of yourself which are so easily projected on
others when you haven’t owned them for yourself.
Jerry: I think you are so correct. I have seen it in my own life; I have seen my journey with my
depression as moving away from chasing happiness and towards chasing wholeness and
having a byproduct of being generally more happy as a result.
Parker: Absolutely; it's a great way to put it. It's a great way to put it. You laugh more, you enjoy
Jerry: You do.
Parker: And when people say to me, you're so courageous to talk about your depression
publically, I say, you know, courage has nothing to do with it. This is a form of therapy
for me in the sense that it is part of my journey toward becoming whole, more whole
every day; that unending journey.
Jerry: Yeah, well, for me, your expressions of it, as we have shared in the past, have also been a
personification of that very core, spiritual notion that we are connected and because by
you therapeutically helping yourself by being open and real, you – unbeknownst to you,
because we didn’t know each other at that time when I first read Let Your Life Speak, you
helped me and to me, that's a profound expression of the interconnectedness of us.
Jerry: Me doing my work allows the other to do their work –
Parker: Yeah, exactly.
Jerry: – as long as I can manage my own ego tendency of not projecting my work on to the other
and turning them into an object.
Page 7 of 18
Parker: Yeah, absolutely and then we also come back to that mutuality because your story as
connected with mine, strengthens me.
Parker: So ultimately, this is a work not just for me but for us –
Parker: – and it's amazing to get to that point where you are secure enough in your own mix of
shadow and light, that sharing it just becomes the most natural act in the world. So, this is
me, what you see is what you get and there is nothing about it that I am not willing to
share. You know, a couple of things Jerry, I have always said – I've had a lot of people
come to talk to me about their depression because I've written spoken about it and I
always wait for that moment, in an extended conversation when I can honestly say to
them after they've gotten it out, after they have said everything that they regard as
shameful – they've said everything that they have never said to another human being or a
[Inaudible 0:22:46] I always treasure that moment when I can look at them and smile and
say, "Welcome to the human race. You did not just marginalize yourself, you just joined
Jerry: That's right.
Parker: You've joined us in the human condition and it's all about joining us really to become
more fully human. Was it Walt Whitman who said, you know, 'Inwardly I am legions. I
recognize every condition of man and woman because I have every condition of man and
woman' and that's a great place to be in life where you can feel that connectedness. Just
one other thing about the sort of existential foundation of all of this which I think takes us
so far beyond, you know, therapeutic technique which is valuable but the existential
payoff is something maybe we don’t talk about enough. So as you know, I recently
turned 76 years of age and at that age, you start thinking more consciously about your
own death than you did when you were, 30, 40, 50 whatever. The seventies are a time of
awareness, about mortality if you are lucky enough to make it that long; and one of the
thoughts that keeps coming back to me is I can't imagine a sadder way to die than with
the feeling that I never showed up in this world as my true self, that I was always a
masked wonder –
Parker: – trying to convince other people that I was something that I am not. Thomas Merton,
one of my heroes in the spiritual life once said, "We all live lives –" or not all of us,
"Most of us –" he said, "– live lives of self-impersonation." [Laughs] I think that's such a
brilliant phrase and yet, as you approach the end of life, you realize what sadness is
attached to self-impersonation. To not showing up as who you really are with all that
you've really got. I do a lot of work with teachers and I won't give you the long version of
this story but I once sat at a lunch table with five, male faculty members during a faculty
Page 8 of 18
workshop I was giving. Somehow, the conversation turned to the courses that all of us
had failed in college because we went to college driven by a parental agenda, a family
agenda, a cultural agenda that we were supposed to become this or that which turned out
to be something that wasn’t us; right? So you are a sophomore, your folks have said, 'You
got to become a doctor' and you are getting a D-minus in Organic Chemistry right?
Everybody at the table had a story of that sort to tell and the second half of that story was
how that failure turned them towards, let's say, 19th century British literature which is
now the specialty they love and are teaching with great joy and have been doing for 15
years. In other words, the failure, the closing of one door opened a door into their true
lives, their true vocation. So, I heard – I listened to those stories and I had my own –
listen to as appreciation but before we got up from the table, I said, "Let me just ask all of
you guys one question: how many of you have ever told your story about failure to your
students?" Not a single hand went up. So the leaders in this society are withholding
critical stuff. I said to them, "Please, for God's sake, tell those stories because you've got
students sitting in your classes right now who are dying inside about a failure that they
think is a dead end rather an opening to a new path."
Jerry: Rather than a crack that lets the light in.
Parker: That lets the light in, exactly, yeah.
Jerry: That's right, I could not agree with you more; I see it every day in work and this is at the
heart of the notion of authentic leadership. Really being yourself the whole, bringing
forth those shadow qualities and it starts to transform the relationship for those all around
you. There's another benefit that I believe exists with this and I'm remembering, I think
it's the Union Analyst, James Halas [Phonetic] [Inaudible 0:29:45] who wrote about our
shadow qualities being a 10,000-Volt power line that's available to us. If we pick it up
and plug it in properly, it's extraordinary; and if we approach it inappropriately, it can
Jerry: And you know, I was sharing that view this past weekend with the last boot camp that we
did and one of the campers, I won't reveal too much about the person, their identification,
shared a story. First time CEO, who's built a company who in a sense, their business is
feeding people. It's a catering service and as we explored her shadow qualities of
humiliation, isolation – she was struck by a memory of being a kid not allowed to eat
lunch with all the other cool kids –
Jerry: – and being so struck by the feeling of isolation of having to eat by herself. When she
made the connection that was she had done was build a company designed to feed people
in community –
Page 9 of 18
Jerry: – that, what she accessed then – and you could see; the body changed, she all of a sudden
owned the painful memory that was providing a source of creativity –
Jerry: – a beautiful expression.
Parker: Yeah, that's alchemy. That's for turning dirt into gold.
Parker: Absolutely and it connects so powerfully with another phrase that is relevant to what we
are talking about and that's the wounded healer.
Parker: So what do we do with our wounds? Do we cover them up? Do we ignore them? Do we
pretend they never happened? No. They can have this transformative power of turning us
into healers of a wounded world and what better mission could any of us undertake;
whether you are catering or entering the political realm or anything in between, than to be
a wounded healer?
Jerry: What would our role be like, if leaders stepped into the role as healer?
Parker: Right. It would be a wonderful world. [Laughs] This would be an absolute wonderful
Jerry: I want to go live there. [Laughs]
Parker: Yes [Laughs] right is there's a house on the market [Laughter] so this takes us – I don’t
know whether you want to go into these waters but as you and I both know and I know
there's a lot of your work that involves this, we must have empathy for leaders who live
and move in a world where people want shows of strength. At least they think that's what
they want. They don’t want exposures of weakness. We've seen what happens in
American political life if a female or a male candidate cries in public over something;
they are dead in the water, they are finished.
Parker: We saw what happened when Thomas Eagleton was the vice presidential candidate on
George McGovern's ticket and it came out that he'd had psychiatric treatment for
depression. They kicked him off the ticket and replaced him.
Page 10 of 18
Parker: So this is a tough world in which to be whole but what happens, as is true in so many of
these kinds of journeys is that you begin not from a place of saying, 'This is going to
transform my company or make my path easier.' It's actually going to make your path
harder for a while and it's actually going to meet with resistance and blowback except in
rare situations. So you start from a point of saying, 'I'm doing this because I care about
my own wellbeing, I care about my own wholeness, I care about my identity and
integrity, I care about not being one of those people who will die saying, I was here for
75 years and I never showed up as my true self." I can't imagine a sadder way to die. You
start there, that's the firm foundation of claiming selfhood in all its ramifications and then
you work through the tough stuff that comes when that blowback sets in because part of
the deal is that the followers, if I can use that word, I actually think we are all leaders one
way or another but let's imagine followers of a corporate leader – because followers, it's
going to take some time for them to trust this. So what's happening here? You're going to
say. I have never had a boss behave like this.
Parker: And you're going to have to exercise patience; the patience that comes from seeing that
they suffered from the same condition that you are now in the process of liberating
Parker: And I do think that this insight on the part of leaders is very, very important. As you
know, I have never been the leader of a corporation, or a major organization, that's not
my gift but one form of leadership I am acquainted with is classroom teaching at the
graduate and undergraduate level. And I know that when my teaching started shifting
from the top-down lecture that takes up the whole hour, to a much more dialogical form
which gets students engaged; like some people now call it the 'flipped classroom', you do
all the study outside and then you come to work on problems together, when my teaching
started shifting in that direction, my students were very resistant. They looked at me and
said, 'Come on man, you are the guy with the PhD, you are the guy that knows what we
need to know. Just give us the knowledge, test us on it, give us a grade and let us get the
hell out of here.'
Jerry: Right because in part, I think they wanted their fear addressed which was, 'How am I
going to get that A?'
Parker: That's right. That's exactly right and their fear of an engaged form of learning in which
they are going to say something wrong, right? They are going to have the answer to a
question whose answers aren’t at the back of the book because that's real learning and
that's risky stuff. So I had – instead of being resentful towards them and with that
resentment then flipping back into my know-it-all lecture role, I had to have the insight
into their condition to see what was going on. What was going on, just as you said, was
fear and not they're brain-dead, they're lazy, they're this, they're that, but they are afraid
and I had just to work hard to create the conditions that would help them move past their
Page 11 of 18
fear. When I was able to put all of that together, to hold my ground as a dialogical teacher
and to create conditions that took them past their fear, then the learning just exploded.
Then people came to class excited, with new insights; they learnt to work collectively
rather than competitively. They asked questions that weren’t in the book and gave
answers that aren’t at the back of any book which is exactly what's needed in the
workplace of the 21st century.
Jerry: I think you are absolutely right and I'm reminded of one of the things that you have
defined as a shadow-casting demon which is this notion of functional atheism–
Jerry: – and a common, common complaint that I hear from my clients; they'll come into my
office, they'll sit on their couch, they often break down in tears because this is the first
place that they can really be heard. And one of the first things that come out is the burden
that they feel of having to have all the answers.
Jerry: And it takes a while for them to understand that there's actually two forces at work there
that create that condition. One force is their own sense of inadequacy which causes them
to see themselves as the source, the fountain of all knowledge and the other is the almost
– wish to be infantilized on part of the staff.
Jerry: 'Just tell me what the answer is so I can get the A.'
Parker: Exactly and the A may mean a bonus or a raise or –
Jerry: Exactly, or not be fired.
Parker: Yeah, right, just not be fired, exactly. So just take a minute to unpack that shadow and
relate it to another one that you know I have named. So the shadow that I call 'functional
atheism' was one way of talking about this idea that if anything good is going to happen
here in this situation, my company, my classroom, I am the person who has to make it
happen. There are no other forces at work here. So in a religious context, you talk a good
line about God moving among us or whatever the language is, but it ain't real. I'm the
priest, I am the pastor, if anything godly is going to happen here, I got to make it happen,
Parker: So, that has its equivalence in all kinds of secular situation, that's the Big Eagle leader
syndrome in a way.
Page 12 of 18
Parker: Nobody else – I mean, I am the leader because I know so much more than anyone else
here and I got to deliver, if anything that is going to happen which of course shuts other
people down, cuts you off from an endlessly rich supply of synergistic thinking and
possibility because you fall into this pit that I call 'functional atheism' which is really an
ego pit. So, I'll relate that to another shadow I named which was insecurity about identity
and worth. You know, I remember vividly, I mean, just saying those words brings up a
gut feeling in me about my early efforts to shift my mode of teaching from the top-down
lecturing to this dialogical style meeting massive student resistance in the process. I am a
pretty good lecturer; it's not uncommon for me to get standing ovations from audiences of
500-800. I have learnt how to do that and I have learnt how to hold a classroom and even
sometimes wow a classroom. So that's ego satisfying and that speaks to my issues around
identity and worth; who am I? Oh, I'm a great lecturer and are my words –
Jerry: I'm worthwhile because 800 people are standing up and applauding me.
Parker: Exactly. Am I worth anything? Yeah, there's the evidence right? So, I started changing
my mode of teaching and what I get is, I ask a question and five minutes of silence pass
before anyone sort of timidly sticks up a hand and offers a half-baked answer. What's
happening there is not only am I getting – I mean, what's happening on the surface is, I
am getting very angry at my students for their failure to participate in this new game but
what's really happening is, I'm just profoundly wounded about who am I and what am I
worth and nothing is happening here. And if I haven’t got a workaround for that, if I
haven’t got a way of holding that, it says basically, Parker, you can lecture till you are
blue in the face, that doesn’t mean any learning is going on. You are here to serve the
cause of learning among these particular students. So your worth is attached to your
willingness to stand in the gaff or you bring them from high school into the world of
genuinely engaged learning which is no longer by rote, it's no longer how much can you
memorize. It's how well can you think like a sociologist or like a literary scholar or like a
physicist around a problem that you have never seen before but that we are going to do
together in a community. I've often thought Jerry, we talk a lot about the skills necessary
to lead a hierarchic organization but there is sense in which that's like falling off a log
compared to leading the complex orchestration of a communal effort to synergistically
name, solve problems and implement the solutions drawing on everybody's best ideas,
everybody's wisdom, everybody gifts which differ greatly from one another.
Jerry: Yeah, I think you are absolutely right; another shadow-casting demon you named is this
fear of failure and/or the denial of death and so it sets us up into this structured position
around it. The irony is, to bring this into, say, businesses and startups in particular, most
startups fail and I don’t mean most by 51%, I mean 90% fail.
Jerry: So the potential for failure is always there. It underlies everything and if I think of some of
the most common challenges, one of the most common challenges is that the ability to
Page 13 of 18
access the wholeness not only of yourself, but of the entire organization that you have
built is only available when we take ourselves out of the top of pyramid hierarchical
structure and we put ourselves into a position as leaders where we can ask questions
instead of lecture –
Jerry: – because then it's challenging and it's scary. But then we allow the people that we have
hired as colleagues and peers to access their creativity and their spontaneity and their
Parker: Exactly, yeah.
Jerry: – which is the best guard against failure.
Parker: Yeah, absolutely. We have to just flip our logic on that and of course, the starting point
of that is to say, I'm not the smartest guy in the room or to put it a little bit differently, all
of us together are inevitably, invariably smarter than any one of us alone.
Jerry: I think that's beautifully said. Another camper – this just came to mind, another camper
once said, this is in one of last year's camps, he said in this beautiful moment in the
afternoon, in which we were really deeply discussing shadow and I really asked people to
look at the purpose of their organization. Not the meaning, not the mission statement of
the organization but the purpose and he turned around and he said, "The purpose of my
company is for every staff member to self-actualize to their fullest self."
Jerry: Isn’t that beautiful?
Parker: Beautiful, beautiful because he knows all the consequences of that happening which loop
right back into the business and –
Jerry: That’s right; not only does it feed the business and the potential of the business to be
nimble, to grow, but it also feeds back into that self the way we were talking about before
because in a sense, by allowing that person to self-actualize, he then gets to self-actualize.
Parker: Absolutely, yeah.
Jerry: By allowing himself to heal, he allows them to heal.
Parker: Yeah, absolutely. When we liberate ourselves, we liberate others and you know, that's a
great welcome to the human race more than –
Jerry: Well, to me, it turns the workplace not into a dreadful obligation, but into a place of
Page 14 of 18
Parker: Yeah. Absolutely; community and service.
Jerry: Community and service.
Parker: And people go home at the end of the day just profoundly satisfied that they have not
only conceived and created and produced and marketed a product, but they have grown
as human beings and helped other people grow. Ultimately, there is no deeper satisfaction
Jerry: I think what you are ultimately getting at is that when the leader works with their own
shadow, when they bring conscious that which has been thrown into the unconscious and
denied, and creates the conditions by which we all can do that, then this beautiful
byproduct starts to occur called trust –
Jerry: – and then trust becomes the foundation for success –
Jerry: – at the organizational level really, I think, regardless of the endeavor.
Parker: I agree completely. Trust is the engine of good work and the improvement of good work
and it takes only a moment to realize that if you and I aren’t doing certain basic forms of
inner work on shadow stuff, we will never achieve relational trust. You and I, we both
have [Inaudible 0:53:04] in the world doing work that has required strong egos; right?
Parker: There is something called ego of strength that has virtue to it but it's easy for that ego of
strength to slip over into egotism and even narcissism. So if we are not doing the inner
work to hold our egos in check, we are not going to achieve relational trust and none of
these other benefits will flow from it. If we are unable to forgive ourselves, or the other
for the inevitable slipups and screw-ups and misunderstandings that come with being
human, we are not going to be able to achieve relational trust and realize all the benefits
that accrue to it. So, just two examples, ego and forgiveness, pieces of inner work that are
so obviously necessary to achieve relational trust which is so obviously necessary to
achieve great results in any line of work. It kind of makes you scratch your head and
wonder why we hadn’t been on to this more thoroughly before.
Jerry: I think that there is an irony in that; so much of the underlying energy behind building and
maintaining shadow is a fear. The fear of death, the fear of failure, the fear of being
misbegotten, unloved, bereft –
Parker: Without identity.
Page 15 of 18
Jerry: Without identity, annihilated, never to have mattered at all in the world. So much of that
energy is placed into denying what's going on when the antidote to the very conditions
that we seek to run away from is trust, is community regardless of whether or not the
current endeavor succeeds, whatever that means, the experience of the endeavor can be
successful whether or not you achieve the financial goals you are looking for.
Parker: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah –
Jerry: And then if the financial goals fail, but the trust-building and self-actualization goals
succeed, then you get to do – and I'll give you this word that we use in the tech industry
all the time, 'you get to do a wonderful little pivot'. You get to turn and you get to take
everything that you have experienced before and you put it under a new frame called
'experiment that did not turn out the way you wanted' –
Jerry: – and you get to take that knowledge and try again.
Parker: You do 2.0 huh? [Laughs]
Jerry: You do 2.0 exactly.
Parker: I think I learnt that from you, Jerry.
Jerry: That's right. In a sense, the name of our company is Reboot.
Jerry: Reboot means starting again.
Parker: Exactly, yeah. No, I love it and you know what interests me and I know it interests you
too, is that one of the great idols in this society is science. Why don’t we learn from it;
because in the world of science, a failure is not a failure.
Parker: The failure of a hypothesis is actually an experience from which you learn more than
when a hypothesis succeeds because a failed hypothesis decidedly rules out one set of
variables if the experiment has been properly constructed right?
Jerry: That's right.
Parker: A successful hypothesis, a successful experiment says, 'Well, maybe that's the whole
story but maybe there are variables that we haven’t considered that are also playing into
the success', right?
Page 16 of 18
Parker: That’s 101, that's Science 101 and it's always been amazing to me that in a world which
says, 'Oh science has the answers, let us turn in that direction and listen to what they have
to say' we don’t listen to what they have to say.
Jerry: Not when it comes to relating to our own sense of failure.
Parker: That's right.
Jerry: You know, I'll make this last point and then let us wrap; you know, I often speak around
the world to young startups and I remember a few – maybe a year or so ago, I was in
Croatia for the first time and I was talking about the fear of failure. They shared with me
that there's basically two words in Croatian for 'failure'. One relates to an experiment
gone wrong and the other relates to being a looser.
Parker: Oh, interesting so then they had a distinction.
Jerry: Yeah, and so the question is, which one do you want to label your failure?
Jerry: Do you want to be the looser which is really about the ego attachment to the
Jerry: – which fuels that shadow or do you give yourself the opportunity to really grow from that
Parker: Absolutely. No, absolutely and I think, you know, I think just as we wrap it up to say that
one of the great opportunities of a leader who understands the shadow stuff because he or
she has been doing it inwardly and can now share it outwardly, is that they have the
power to reframe things like failure for everyone with whom they work. Leadership is so
much about reframing and if you take this one alone, the leader needs to say, 'Here's how
we normally frame failure in this society but in this company, in this community, we're
going to challenge that and we are going to have another frame around failure.' Now a
failure from which you can learn, a failure which paradoxically is not a failure is one that
is carefully constructed, right?
Parker: In science, if the hypothesis isn’t carefully constructed and the experiment likewise, then
you are never sure what you have learnt. But we're going to create a carefully constructed
hypothesis and experiments and when those fail, we can all cheer and say, 'Look how
Page 17 of 18
much we've learnt' which means, we are not going to do sloppy work. I mean, this isn’t
just sort of anything goes; you know, there are some boundary conditions to the failure
which is actually paradoxically a success and a good leader can frame that, can bring
people into a whole new set of standards which are actually very liberating of our fear of
failure and at the same time, advance the work and advance the sense of community.
Jerry: Which ultimately, you need to go back to that client who said, you know, the purpose of
this company is the fulfillment of the humanity of everybody who is involved.
Parker: Yeah, oh absolutely. So, you go back home and you take that reframing with you and
your child comes home from school and says, 'I failed a test'. Well, good for you, there's
a learning here. Let's look for it.
Jerry: Yeah. Well, thank you so much. We could talk forever, we could riff forever.
Parker: We could.
Jerry: You know it's such a joy and in every conversation I have with you, I come away with just
a deeper understanding of some of these issues and so I am deeply grateful to you; not
only for the work that you have helped me do, but the work that you help me do every
day with my clients and the work that they then turn around and do with their colleagues,
their peers, their friends, their families.
Parker: Well, thank you, that's very generous and I'll go back to where I started and say, it's also
very mutual; very, very mutual. I am so grateful for this friendship and this learning
community of two plus two plus two multiplied by many factors that we are both part of.
Jerry: Well, thank you so much.
Parker: Take care, Jerry.
Jerry: Take care.
So that’s it for our conversation today. You know, a lot was covered in this episode from links,
to books, to quotes, to images. So, we went ahead and compiled all that and put it on our site at
Reboot.io/Podcast. If you would like to be a guest on the show, you can find out about that on
our site as well. I’m really grateful that you took the time to listen. If you enjoyed the show and
you want to get all the latest episodes as we release them, head over to iTunes and subscribe and
while you’re there, it would be great if you could leave us a review letting us know how the
show affected you. So, thank you again for listening and I really look forward to future
"How long till my soul gets it right?
Did any human being ever reach that kind of light?
Page 18 of 18
I call on the resting soul of Galileo,
King of night-vision, King of insight."
[End of audio 0:59:42]
[End of transcript]