Crossing the threshold into the future

A child, silhouetted against the sunset, steps from one post to another

In a world filled with change, it is often not the practical changes we find difficult but rather the emotional letting go of the way the world used to be and the taking on of new roles, identities, and ways of being.

These psychological shifts are called ‘transitions‘ and they come in three stages.

The first stage is to let go of the way the world used to be and turn to face the future. The second stage is to take the first step into the unknown: leaving behind the security of the old world and taking the risk of building something new.

Crossing the Threshold

This Threshold phase is like the chrysalis between the caterpillar and the butterfly: everything here is undefined.

As people enter this stage they can therefore naturally find themselves feeling uncertain, disoriented, lonely, vulnerable, or afraid. The old world has gone but the new world has not yet been built.

Your role here is to provide structure — for yourself and then others.

In a churning world this is structure that can’t be rigidly imposed: people have to develop it for themselves (using their own inner leadership).

But there are two things you can do to accelerate the process (and that means you have to do them for yourself first):

  1. First, bottom up, you can encourage people to develop their own inner leadership, to become better at coping with uncertainty.
    Teach them especially to centre and ground, make clearer sense of their situations, and find more opportunities in a crisis.
    The better people can do these three things the more confident they will become and the better they will be able to respond, no matter what happens.
  2. Second, top down, you can provide external structure and security by putting the culture of your future vision in place.
    Management guru Peter Drucker wrote that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This Threshold phase of the transition gives you the opportunity to put that culture in place.
    You do this by defining the values that will make your vision succeed, why they matter, and the attitudes and behaviours that make them real.
    Doing this provides a framework of values, attitudes, and behaviours that enables people to respond to anything that happens. It also immediately achieves half your vision: its culture.

One day you will look back at the Threshold stage as a time of freedom, so treat the ambiguity of this period as an opportunity for innovation, exploration, and adventure. Switch from asking “Are we there yet?” to “Are we heading in the right direction?” Experiment! In the Threshold stage all things are possible.

When did you last experience a major shift in role or identity? As you stepped into that new role did you experience uncertainty?
Would it have been useful to know how to stay calm in a crisis, make clearer sense of new situations, and find more opportunities?
Would it have been useful to have a clearer vision of what you were working towards and clearer values, attitudes, and behaviours to guide you? Would defining them be useful now?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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