Crossing the threshold into the future

In a world filled with change, it is often not the practical changes we find difficult — but rather the psychological or 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 and emotional 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 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. This is the Threshold phase.


Crossing the Threshold

The Threshold phase is like the chrysalis stage between the caterpillar and the butterfly: the old world has gone but the new world has not yet been built. Everything here is undefined so people entering this stage are likely to be feeling uncertain, disoriented, lonely, vulnerable, or afraid.

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

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

And there are two things you can do to accelerate the process:

  1. First, bottom up, you can encourage people to develop their own inner leadership skills, to become better at coping with the uncertainty of the Threshold phase.
    Teach them especially to centre and ground, make clearer sense of their situations, and find more opportunities in a crisis.
    The better people are able to do these three things the more confident and able they will become, to respond not 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 said that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This Threshold phase gives you the opportunity to bring that culture alive.
    You do this by defining the values that will make your vision succeed, plus why they matter and the attitudes and behaviours that will bring them to life.
    This too provides a framework that enables people to respond to anything that happens.

With an internal framework and an external framework in place, people become more able to cope with change. Then they learn to thrive because of that change.

And you can’t expect to lead others if you can’t first lead yourself.

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?
  • Have a clearer vision of what you were working towards
  • Have clearer values, attitudes, and behaviours to guide your responses?

Would it be useful to start learning these things now?

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

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also have to practice.)

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