The Insiders Guide To The Dark Side

You’ve had those moments. So have I. You desperately want a leadership do-over, but it’s too late. It’s out there – your dark side in all it’s glory.

“Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.”
~ Yoda

You hear yourself apologizing: “I just wasn’t myself.” Don’t be too sure. “I never act like that.” Yes, you just did. Your evil twin’s an excellent teacher.

Listen well to what your dark side has to say.

 A Lesson From My Dark Side

I like to think of myself as a caring leader, yoga woman, introspective, positive, working to develop others. So why was I screaming at this manager from another department? I’d completely lost it. That wasn’t really me. Or was it?

It was MY values that triggered the response. It was MY exhaustion that wore down my filters. Was the manager arrogant and closed minded? Oh yeah. Was I right in defending against the racial prejudice clearly at play? Yup. But I was the one swinging the figurative punches. He stayed calm. Dark side 1. Values 0. No cause advanced by my reaction.

I’ll never forget the incident that plunged me into a deeper understanding of my values and how I respond. Sure I regret my stupidity, but my fight against “bad leadership” now shines a bit clearer.

4 Lessons From Your Dark Side

Your dark side comes bearing gifts. Lean into your stupidity to understand your pain.

  1. Conflicting Internal Goals – When your dark side shocks you, look for signs of internal conflict. Distressed hearts yearn for deeper focus. Consider your competing priorities and options.
  2. Values – When your dark side takes wheel, check for squashed values in the rear view mirror. Look for patterns. Ugly reactions signal what you care about most deeply. Passion is good– even better when managed productively. Values don’t translate well through tantrums and other mishaps. Take time to understand your ugliest moments, and work to reframe them for good. Apologize and talk carefully about what drove the reaction. Dive deeper into the muck to find deeper meaning and connection.
  3. Triggers – Face it, sometimes your evil twin just overreacts. Know your triggers, and see them for what they are. Learn your patterns and ways to cope. Take a break. Walk away. Use your dark side to teach you patience, compassion, and understanding.
  4. Balance – Everyone’s looks and acts a bit uglier when exhausted. You can fake it for a while, but sooner or later tired and cranky brings out the dark side. Your inner witch may just be your body’s way of telling you it’s time to rest. Listen.
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Karin,

    Great points. This is why self-awareness is so important. It keeps us centered, accountable in our thoughts and actions. A necessity in leading with trust, respect, and high value. Thanks!


  2. I stay within my value system the majority of the time. Those times when I stray off the beaten path, I feel like a different person. At that moment, I don’t like me. Not a good feeling.

    What I’ve learned? Living on the dark side, zaps my energy. It’s a distraction.

  3. Great post Karen!

    The Yoda quote pulled me in, and this resonated LOUDLY… “You’ve had those moments. So have I. You desperately want a leadership do-over, but it’s too late. It’s out there– your dark side in all it’s glory.” Love the lessons!

  4. Hi Karin,

    I agree with you, balance is key.

    I’m someone who can become stressed quite easily, so I learned to manage it early. I believe as leaders, we all need to take responsibility for this.

    For me, eating healthy, exercise (I walk an hour most mornings), and taking real vacations are critical toward managing my stress.

  5. Hi Karin,

    One of the things I’ve learned from my dark side is the depth of my strength. It sounds paradoxical but I do feel that the core of my strength lies in my dark side. One of the best things about getting older is that I’ve learned to express that strength in productive, functional ways. Over the years, I’ve paid attention to my triggers to help me become conscious of feeling out of my centre and integrity sooner, so I can respond rather than react.

    That being said, every now and then, my dark side can come out swinging. I can’t tell you how comforting it is to know I’m not alone. I mean, I “know” I’m not alone. A large part of my work is helping my clients increase their own personal bandwidth by listening to and learning from their dark sides. I appreciate you writing about your dark side very much.

    I beat myself up for a long time when my dark side wins (even though I help clients move beyond that – pot, kettle, black). How do you move beyond beating yourself up for too long?


    • Sharon, Thanks so much for you in-depth insights. I agree, that’s the hard part… letting it go and using it as learning… I, too, find it easier to forgive others than myself.

  6. Hi Karin!

    Were you in my office Friday? I think this post was written for me. 🙂 In all its glory the dark side came out and I had some clean-up to do today. You are right about the gifts that then appeared. I learned that leaders and parents have a lot in common. We want what’s best our team and children; we invest time in coaching, teaching and mentoring but in the end the decisions made and who they become, is up to them. We can’t let expectations and “should’s” result in our dark side coming out.

    Thank you for this awesome post,

  7. Yuki, yeah, I’ve got the place bugged…it’s great fodder for posts 😉 You give such a powerful example here… it’s tough when we care so deeply, and want what’s best for others.

  8. What a wonderful post! I am fascinated by my dark side, not because I want to spend a lot of time there, but because it’s inhuman to ignore it. One of the most useful tools I found for profiling the subjects of my FBI investigations was the Enneagram, a personality assessment analysis. And one of the reasons I found it so useful, both in my investigations and in my personal life, was because it dared to include the dark side of our personalities. Too many times we just don’t want to acknowledge our darkness…we prefer to either pretend it’s not there or work on eliminating it. That is not useful because much of the time the darkest aspects of our personalities are simply our strengths run amok.

    In my own life I’ve found that, unchecked, my persistence becomes dogmatism. I love confronting that dark side of my personality because I know behind it is a strength and light that has simply has not been set free.


    I am aware of my dark side constantly. I believe we must be aware of what we dislike about ourselves, as much as what we like about ourselves. That is the way we learn, develop and grow.

    Our darkness shines light on ourselves it gives us the shadows so we can see.


    Thanks for bringing us the light on our darkness!


  10. Great post Karin. I find my dark side comes out mostly in the form of impatience when I’m pressed for time (usually on an airport day for a consulting trip). Funny thing is it always works out and somehow time is created for the most important things to get done. The trick is to take a deep breath and realize things always work out somehow to create time to get the most important things done. Much better than making someone else feel bad because I was short with them.

  11. I can usually predict when this will happen, usually because of someone (like you describe) that clearly is not a listening leader and doesn’t share similar inclusive values. My mom actually taught me a mantra to recite both before and after meetings where I suspect conflict could arise: “I will NOT let THEIR words or action produce an emotional response from me.” I walk around the halls for about 5-10 minutes prior to the meeting reciting this in my head and prepare for the worst but hope for the best. I might even play-act some possible level headed responses that challenge bad behavior without being emotionally reactive.

  12. Great post, Karin!

    Being self-aware of the triggers we have is so important. Half the battle is knowing what triggers us and being able to control our reaction when they are set off.

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