Crossing the threshold into the future

A child, silhouetted against the sunset, steps from one post to anotherIn a world filled with change, it is often not the physical changes people find difficult but rather the emotional letting go of the way the world used to be and the taking on of a new role, identity, or way of being.

These psychological responses are called ‘transitions‘. They come in three stages. The first is to Separate from the way the world used to be and then turn to face the future. The second is to leave behind the security of the old world and step forward into the unknown: to take the risk of building something new.

Crossing the Threshold

As people cross this ‘Threshold’ stage they often find themselves feeling uncertain, disoriented, lonely, vulnerable, or afraid. The old world has gone but the new world has not yet been built. This is the chrysalis stage between the caterpillar and the butterfly. Everything here is undefined.

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

In a churning world this can’t be rigidly imposed: it has to be something people develop and build for themselves. But there are two ways that you can accelerate the process:

— First, bottom up, you can encourage people to find their own ways of coping with uncertainty, to develop their own capabilities for inner leadership.
Teach them to centre and ground, make sense of their situations, and find more opportunities in a crisis. Then they will become confident of their abilities to manage their uncertainty and find more solutions to it.
Like a bird, they will no longer need to worry about whether or not to trust the ‘branch’ they are sitting on, because if the branch breaks they can trust their own wings.

— Second, top down, you can provide structure by putting in place the culture of your future vision.
Management guru Peter Drucker wrote that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In this Threshold phase of transition you have the opportunity to put that culture in place.
By defining the values that will make your vision succeed, why they matter, and the attitudes and behaviours that put them into practice, you provide a structure that enables people to respond to anything that happens.
You also achieve 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 a lot of uncertainty? Would it have been useful to have had a clearer vision of what you were working towards and clearer values, attitudes, and behaviours to guide you? Would it have been useful to know how to keep calm in a crisis, make clearer sense of new situations, and find more opportunities?

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

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