Covid-19 and the political response to it has plunged the world into an unprecedented state of disruption and magnified the political and organisational leadership vacuum. Thinkers, business-people and leaders are scrambling to assimilate the facts, make sense of what is happening and make predictions for the future. The challenge in achieving this is the unique nature and scale of the crisis.
Borrowing learning from responses to previous pandemics, such as the 1918 Spanish flu, seems to offer limited value when we consider how much the global landscape has changed in the last 100 years. Currently, it seems that our hindsight and predictive models are not enough to help us map the future…
But there is another way to look at this.
Whilst previous experience offers us little insight in predicting the course of the pandemic, there is a lot we can learn from ancient wisdom to help us to respond to and transition in the crisis. Arising from a time when humankind was closely connected to the earth, leaders of old understood the importance of making sense of our personal experiences through the lens of seasonal cycles. The writer of Ecclesiastes revealed this cyclical view of history when he declared:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
There are modern writers too, that have drawn from this ancient wisdom to make sense of human events as part of broader cycles of change. In their seminal book The Fourth Turning, Strauss and Howe invite us to unlearn the linear view of the modern world as being exempt from the seasonal cycles of nature and to understand that the rhythms of biology and nature are reflected in the rhythms of political, social and organisational change. These cyclical rhythms are often initiated by crisis and upheaval which invite us to let go of the old order and usher us into a threshold or liminal (from the Latin ”Limen” which means threshold) position as we await the emergence of the new order. Seen in this way, the Covid-19 pandemic and lock-down have signaled an abrupt seasonal shift and resulted in a collective experience of liminality.
The current lock-down has offered us a “pause” or transitional moment between the passing old order and the emergent new order of the future. Rather than viewing it as a problem to be solved, we have an invitation to use this time to our advantage. From a psychological perspective, the current pause could help us to let go of what is no longer relevant and re-align with ourselves so we are prepared to meet the demands and requirements of the next season of our lives. In this way this liminal space can act as a necessary ‘’bridge’’ from our old reality and the new reality that is trying to emerge. Though uncomfortable, being suspended in this current liminal space of ”unknowing” offers us a chance to re-imagine the future and what our place in it might be. How will you use it?
“In the universe there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in-between them, there are doors.”
– William Blake
What does the Liminal Space have to do with leadership? In this her article ‘The 6 C’s of Liminal Leadership‘, Tracy May, CEO of The Diversitas Group unpacks the 6 Key Leadership Competencies that are critical to the world of the future.