I have been reflecting on the concept of liminality, the space between the old and the emerging new, particularly as it applies to leaders and organisations constantly needing to navigate the threshold space of the uncertain future, caused by accelerating change and characterised by ambiguity, uncertainty, volatility, and complexity.
Richard Rohr, a globally recognised ecumenical teacher and mystic, describes the nature of this liminal space:
“A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where transformation is most possible. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
We have all experienced this place of transition, whether personally or in the context our organisations. At many times, we have also behaved from a place of disregulation with our neocortex having abandoned ship and our limbic brain shouting, “Run!” or “Fight!”.
The liminal space is a relevant concept for leaders to acknowledge as they grapple with the uncertain future arising from digital transformation, growth in AI, climate change, new organisational models, ethical failure, consumer, employee and investor demand for ethical businesses, the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion, wellbeing at work, etc. It alludes to the leadership and organisational capacities needed to navigate it with more grace and creativity, than confusion and fear.
It is also deeply relevant for many leaders in transition, who are seeking greater meaning and purpose from their work and businesses, and striving to make a positive contribution to our planet and humanity. In effect, they are embarking on a process of discovery and their own journey of growth and transformation.
In this unknown space, we – leaders, employees, boards, shareholders – can feel the need to cling to the known, the past. Yet what is needed is for leaders and executive teams in particular to consciously and deliberately embrace this space, to imagine and create the future together with their employees, boards, and community stakeholders.
Fundamental to the success of organisations to do this are leaders who are committed to developing the capacities and organisational practices that enable and support everyone’s movement through the unknown: to tap into creativity, to wisdom, to their inner guide, to sense into and embrace the limitless possibilities, to deeply trust and feel solidarity within the organisation, to reshape identities, to grow in emotional and spiritual intelligence and design the new resting place. For businesses to navigate the changing landscape, leadership growth, employee development, and organisational transformation are inseparable.
Critical to this journey is for leaders, teams, and organisations to refine, revisit, and clarify their guiding compass so they have clear intuitive, behavioural, and strategic directions to confidently navigate the complexity, with confidence, courage and compassion.
A guiding compass needs to include a deeply meaningful, noble purpose (why) and a coherent set of values-in-action and principles (how), that will guide the exploration and action of the collective to the new way (what).
With a clear, inspirational, and actionable reason for being and guidance on how to BE and DO, leaders need not stall and cling to the old, but trust, grow, and transform themselves and their organisations to a sustainable future.
My goal is to support leaders, teams and organisations to define their noble purpose, values and principles, develop their spiritual and emotional capabilities, and create relevant practices, strategies, and systems to bring their purpose and values to life.
Please GET IN TOUCH if you would like to discuss how I can work with you to define and activate your leadership, team and/or organisational compass.
Reference: Thanks to Carrie Barron, M.D. for her article on Creativity and the Liminal Space, in Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-creativity-cure/201306/creativity-and-the-liminal-space.