In my previous blog (read more), I introduced the concept of Liminal spaces (from the Latin – Limen, meaning threshold) which are a “pause” or transitional moment between the passing old order and the emergent new order.
Whilst some are reacting from frustration within this liminal space, perhaps viewing it as a ‘’dead’’ or unproductive space, I would argue that there is an alternative interpretation. This is that the liminal space we are now in is critical for individuals, teams and organisations to evolve, reframe, let go of old ways of thinking and being and prepare for the future. It is, I believe the place where a new form of leadership will arise.
At The Diversitas Group, we believe that the current liminal experience leaders are in, is a critical opportunity to develop the 6 key leadership competencies of the future.
Read on to find out what they are:
noun – the quality of being coherent and intelligible.
In times of uncertainty and ambiguity, leaders are called upon more than ever to provide clarity and this can be facilitated by transitioning well through the liminal space.To understand why, it is important to differentiate between clarity and certainty.
Clarity refers to an understanding of “why’” things are happening and what they might mean for the future – in other words, the principles and trends that are at play. Certainty is the desire to understand ‘’how’’ things will work out. Those that seek certainty in this liminal space will be disappointed. All our models of certainty are based on previous experience or hindsight and as we have established, previous experience does not serve us much in this current season of unprecedented disruption.
Clarity, on the other hand enables leaders to see beyond the current chaos, discern the wider season or cycle that we are engaged in and help their people navigate forward into their desired future.
noun – the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.
One of the paradoxes of the liminal space is that it invites us into an attitude of consciousness and acceptance before we can formulate next steps or look to the future. Leaders refined by the liminal experiences learn to accept this passage, along with all its frustrations and limits because they realise that they need to learn how to direct their focus first and foremost towards managing their own responses, before trying to take control others of others or outside events. As the distractions of the outside world are stripped away during this Covid-19 lockdown pause, leaders at last have the opportunity to become conscious of the gap between their leadership intention and their leadership impact and re-align with their own values as they tune back in to their intuition.
Being conscious allows leaders a way out of reactivity into responsiveness and enables them to connect with a higher version of themselves so they can live out their own ethos with integrity.
noun – the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery
To manage the liminal space well takes courage and resolve. Liminal spaces are by their very nature unclear and ambiguous. On a brain level, we are often triggered by uncertainty and the temptation is strong to react by filling in the gaps in our current information with data borrowed from past experiences, biases or assumptions.
This almost guarantees that we will try to replicate old experiences and ways of thinking in the future. In the liminal space leaders have the opportunity to resist the temptation to create the new world after the old order, by learning to respond to ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty with acceptance, courage and insight.
This means they suppress their urge to make fear driven decisions based on trying to control events and people and instead, focus their attention on accepting what cannot be changed. Then, they learn to stretch their risk tolerance and move forward into making necessary decisions , even in the absence of certainty.
noun – the use of imagination or original ideas to create something
The future will be imagined before it is created, and the liminal space is the seed bed where this creative imagination begins to arise. The catalyst for creativity is the courage to suspend what is already known and engage in deep reflection about the self and the possible future.
This idea is echoed by MIT in their Theory U leadership Model (below). They postulate that individual and organisational growth involves a journey down the left hand side side of the U, initiated by suspending what we think we already know about reality within our institutional bubble and being willing to move into the bottom of the U – the liminal space which connects us to the world that emerges from within, and is essentially unknown.
The bottom of the U or liminal space becomes the ‘’gate’’ for us to pass through so we can emerge into something new for the future. Letting go what we think we know, offers us a subtle connection to a much deeper source of knowing and once we cross this subtle threshold, nothing remains the same. Leaders that are willing to move into this place of expectant ‘’un-knowing’’ will begin to operate with a heightened level of creativity, innovation and energy and become catalysts for an emerging future that builds upon but does not mimic the past.
noun – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
In the liminal space relationships are deepened. Leaders not only have the opportunity to connect more deeply with themselves and their core values and meaning, but also to connect with others. The traditional (and largely artificial) barriers that separate people tend to be set aside in times of crisis, and people experience a connection with others they would not normally seek out, purely based on their shared humanity.
This opens up awareness and compassion and results in a deeper empathic connection between leaders and those they are seeking to lead. Leaders who allow themselves to connect in this way develop a deep understanding of stakeholder concerns and needs and can use this insight to inform their decision making. In this way they build trust and shared commitment to mutually beneficial outcomes and begin to lead people and communities, instead of just executing tasks.
noun – the action or fact of forming a united whole
Leaders of the future will, to a greater degree than today, be defined by their ability to take an active and constructive part in the society in which their business operates. Their focus will shift from simply doing business to questioning how their business is done, from thinking only of profit, to thinking about organisational, social and environmental sustainability. This wider focus germinates in the liminal space, where they realize their mutual interdependency and the power of harnessing collective energies to create the desired future. Otto Scharmer describes this shift as one from ‘’ego-system’’ to ‘’eco-system” thinking.
He goes on to explain “What’s really needed is a deeper shift in consciousness so that we begin to care and act, not just for ourselves and other stakeholders but in the interests of the entire ecosystem in which economic activities take place.”
The current liminal space is a ”fertile void” for the emergence of a quality of leadership that individuals, teams, organisations and communities desperately need.
How leaders respond to this space may become a critical predictor of personal and organisational success and sustainability in the emerging new order. Our responsibility as Executive Coaches and Leadership Facilitators is to support them to use this time well and connect with the highest expression of their leadership so they can become agents of positive change and play their part in ushering in a world that we all want to live in.
How are you supporting your leaders at this time?
Check out our website to learn about the Liminal Leadership Programme. Designed for leaders and managers responsible for people, strategy and execution this programme will support and develop you to reach the next phase of personal and organisational growth required to be able to survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow.