Does your leadership cast a light – or a shadow – on those around you?


“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project onto other people his or her shadow, or his or her light.
A person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can either be as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell.”


I’ve had a lot of reasons to think about this quote from Parker Palmer in the last several weeks.

I recently returned home from 3 weeks in Kosovo, and the importance of good leadership has been heavy on my mind.


American flags seem to be everywhere in Kosovo. We saw this one raised in front of a home in the countryside.

This thought process began during a ride in the countryside with friends. We were driving along and spotted a massive makeshift wooden flagpole flying high above a Kosovar home. What was flapping in the wind?

Not a Kosovar flag.

An American flag.

Normally, you’d think this was a fluke. But I knew it wasn’t. I had been seeing American flags flying everywhere since arriving.

Albanian, Kosovar and American flags sold by a vendor on the street.

On the street and in the market.

Flags flying outside a revolving rooftop restaurant in Peja. L to R: American, EU, Albanian, Kosovar flags

Above restaurants.

Outside of businesses, buildings and hotels.

They even celebrated the Fourth of July with us in their capital city. As an American, I couldn’t help but to feel a tinge of pride. But it felt odd at the same time.

Why was the American flag in so many places?

It’s simple.

We cared enough to project some light onto them during one of their darkest hours. And this is their way of saying thank you.


To really understand this, it’s important to first know a bit of Balkan history as it relates to Kosovo. If you love history, you’ve probably already skipped to the next paragraph.

If you hate it, be patient. I promise it’s worth reading.

  • Kosovo is one of the world’s newest countries, becoming independent in 2008 after decades under the former communist Yugoslavia.
  • Those years were spent under the dictatorship of Josip Broz Tito. Not long after his death, the nation fell into civil war (you’ll likely remember seeing the atrocities that took place in Balkan countries like Kosovo and Bosnia on television in the 1990s).
  • It wasn’t until 1999, when NATO led a bombing campaign to help force Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo, that the country was finally at peace.

Kosovo is a small nation in southeastern Europe that gained its independence in 2008. Nearly 70% of its population is between the ages of 15 and 27,


After our ride in the countryside, I was sitting in my hotel room in Kosovo that night watching recent events in Syria play out on CNN International. And it was all the more poignant because I knew Kosovo had experienced a similar story in the late ‘90s.

Innocent people were being killed. While the world watched.

The difference for Kosovo was the someone DID something.

My point isn’t to get into a political debate. It’s to say that I realized I was in the middle of a culture that was so very grateful for the intervention. It changed their lives. And 13 years later, I was experiencing the effect that a handful of leaders had on an entire nation and its people.

As Palmer says, leaders can cast a light – or a shadow – on those around them.

So when that handful of people got the guts and resolve to do something to help halt genocide in Kosovo, the light shone brilliantly.

Kosovars are extremely grateful for the role Americans played in helping to stop the war in 1999 and for their support of its independence in 2008. This picture of Bill Clinton sits along Bill Clinton Boulevard in the heart of Kosovo’s capital city of Pristina.

And I know the lives of the young leaders we were working with in Kosovo were forever changed (even saved) because of the choice others made to shine a light. A choice that brought a ripple-effect of life, freedom and the opportunity to create a better world for millions of young Kosovars.


So what’s our responsibility? When it comes to leading in our own circles, are there places where we can help cast a light instead of a shadow on those around us?

And the question I want to always ask myself, no matter where I am, is, “What can I do to keep this in mind on a daily basis?” Because I want my actions to help illuminate the lives of others day-in and day-out, allowing them to grow into the people they’re made to be. People who go on and shine their own lights – lights that just might change the world, too.


  1. So happy you wrote this post!!!! I learned not only about Kosovo but it made me think about ways I can begin to cast my own light.You go girl! Keep them coming. 🙂

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