Liminal Leadership

I operate with clients in that liminal space between the known and the unknown. The area where we have yet to find things out, where there are no benchmarks or “solutions”

Many people use people like me at a point of pain. When something has become manifest. It’s a much easier point of access, but limited in scope. Like taking painkillers, it’s often a fast and convenient, but temporary relief for a symptom rather than something that address the root cause.

Organisations love painkillers. However, there are always people inside those organisations who understand symptoms for what they are.

Accessing these people is not easy. It’s not about marketing, or logic. Mostly, it’s about reputation, empathy, and an ability to start a conversation about the liminal space. It’s about trust and crossing boundaries.

Liminal spaces are the gaps between one state and another. In traditional cultures they can be rites of passage, In music, the space between one note and the next (Miles Davis said that he paid more attention to the space between the notes than the notes themselves – and he was rather good…)

In the uncertain and complex times we are in, the new normal, leadership is increasingly about helping those we work with to occupy this liminal space. To reduce the need for “certainty” and learning to dance with uncertainty.

It is leadership of a different order. Crystal clear briefs about where we need to get to, making sure we have the right people who are competent, capable and resourced to deliver with minimal supervision. About communication and support, not micro management. About letting them lead their own dance to get to where we need them to be, not waiting for our instructions on what to do next.

Most organisations and most managers are still tasked and assessed in the “organisation as machine” that have served us well in the past, but now, whether we like it or not, we are in liminal space as we deal with the three climate changes – environment, technology, and social.

As leaders, we need to have the confidence to look outwards, to see and sense the changes taking place and taking action before they overwhelm us, confident that those inside are delivering what we have asked of them.

Complexity, technology and ubiquitous connection mean that we need to think in terms of ecosystems, not just our immediate team, or our immediate organisation. Increasingly, strategic success is more about influencing systems more than hands on supervision of people – providing of course, we have got the right people.

The reality is liminal space offers huge opportunity. Traditional sources of differentiation and commercial power dissolve in the liminal spaces. Hotels yield to AirBnB, Transport to UBER and Lyft, Routine healthcare to e-medicine, routine back office work to AI – and this is barely the start.

Leadership now is about learning to dance beautifully with uncertainty.

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