I just read this article in the Harvard Business Review. There is much for me to ponder on:
Leaders have always shown their mettle in times of liminality. The term comes from Arnold van Gennep, the Belgian anthropologist who first outlined the common patterns in how cultures mark transitions from one human state to another (for example, from adolescence to adulthood). In his 1909 book The Rites of Passage he described three stages of separation from one world and entry into another. The liminal (or threshold) stage is central. Commenting later on van Gennep’s work, anthropologist Victor Turner explained it as “a moment when those being moved in accordance with a cultural script were liberated from normative demands, when they were, indeed, betwixt and between successive lodgments in jural political systems. In this gap between ordered worlds almost anything may happen.”
Organizations must also periodically go through such wrenching times of transition, and it is during such liminal times that leaders have their greatest impact. They must manage to both craft the new world with smart strategy, often in the wake of disruption, and cause the organization to embrace the required change. Lou Gerstner’s arrival at IBM in 1993 is a classic example of leadership through a liminal period. Parachuted in to salvage a beleaguered organization, he pushed the company toward a new way of thinking, ultimately growing IBM’s value and revenues by more than 40 percent.
Another key passage is this:
Times of liminality are disconcertingly chaotic; therefore, a leader’s job is to provide some firm footing for people, with assurances of what will not keep changing. Gerstner did this with his clear and consistent view of where IBM needed to go, and Lafley did it with his reassertion of bedrock values. Great leaders also act as mentors, providing counsel and coaching to the people in the organization during various stages of transition. And perhaps the ultimate work of leaders in times of organizational change is to ensure high engagement levels.
I few months ago at the end of a retreat I was told that I was in a liminal space. I have wondered what this means in my own leadership? Much of what I thought I would be leading in no longer there. But, while I continue to breathe it’s not over yet.
Like what Seth Godin says to do:
Make two lists. One that lists all your obstacles:
The defects in your family situation, the criticisms your work has received lately. It is a list of people who have better luck than you and moments you’ve been shafted and misunderstood.
Then the other is the good stuff:
The lucky breaks, the advantages, the good feedback, your trusted network. It talks about the accident of being born in the right time and the right place, your health, your freedom. It features your education, your connection to the marketplace and just about every nice thing someone has said about you in the last week or month.
Which one do you choose to read?