By Mia Handshin
“Holy shit” is a phrase that’s been repeated multiple times by various members of our team over the past few weeks. And that’s not just because one of us (i.e. Matt) likes to think of himself as Batman. Nor because of the current toilet paper shortage. Although that situation is getting a little dire here at LeadersHP.
We’ve found ourselves whispering it under our breath whilst reading news reports. Digesting updates. Taking in stories being shared by clients and colleagues about the impacts they are experiencing.
There’s a lot going down right now.
And while some of us may be able to focus from time to time on the “holy” part, at other times we may simply feel overwhelmed about the “shit”.
The key leadership question is: can we expand our minds to hold both perspectives at the same time?
In 1968, a photograph catalysed a radical shift in human consciousness. A dramatic expansion of perspective.
Taken during the Apollo 8 mission to the moon, the picture which was later dubbed “Earth Rise,” was the first vision of the planet captured and beamed back from space. It caused a collective intake of breath across the world. Seeing the planet from this vantage point, humanity could no longer hold quite so tightly onto the notion of separation and division. It was a shift of perspective only surpassed in its significance by the earlier discovery that the earth was in fact round.
In “The Orbital Perspective”, astronaut Ron Garan describes the impact of seeing things from this vantage point:
“[It] gave me a unique perspective - something I’ve come to call the orbital perspective. Part of this is the realization that we are all travelling together on this planet and that if we all looked at the world from that perspective, we would see that nothing is impossible.”
What's happening right now presents the opportunity for another holy shift akin to that which occurred as a result of Earth Rise in 1968. Only, the vantage point that we are being offered now is coming from “space” of a different kind. The “space between us” required by measures to contain the spread of the corona virus. The “space that’s different” from business and activity as usual.
And right now, we are also experiencing “liminal space”; the time in-between “what was” and “what’s next”. It's the place of transition, of waiting, of not knowing. Not comfortable. But incredibly purposeful.
If you’ve ever experienced a job loss or change, divorce, the death of a loved one, moving to a new state or country, each of these transitions offer us “liminal space”. "Liminal" is derived from the Latin word meaning threshold. It’s the space in which transformation takes place. And how well we navigate the transition relies on how well we listen, pay attention to and read the cues and clues of our life about "what was" and "what could be".
We see the Corona virus as presenting humanity with an extraordinary experience of “liminal space”.
It’s also a kind of worldwide pattern interrupt, impacting all of our individual daily habits and routines in different ways.
From our work with leaders, we understand that, in order to break an individual’s habitual thinking or behavioural pattern, we often need to do something that will shock us and shake up our typical thoughts and actions. Doing so opens up the possibility for something new. A pattern interrupt is about forcing the brain out of autopilot and into a “what now?” mode. This is an important part of the change process.
Taking ourselves out of our usual space, on a retreat for example, is one way that we might intentionally create a pattern interrupt for ourselves. And sometimes life presents us with unexpected events to forcefully interrupt us. Like the one being presented to all of us on the planet, right now.
For me personally, this pattern interrupt has highlighted something that's been dawning for a while, but which I’ve not yet taken action to change. The steady encroachment of work into family life by way of our mobile devices is an issue for many of us. In the past I’ve noticed how my kids are impacted when I’m looking down at my phone taking in an email before we’ve left the house of a morning.
My blurry boundaries around this have come into clear view whilst being forced to work from home, as a single parent with three children and a business to run. Now family life is impacting in a whole new way on work (picture here: burnt pizzas/ hungry kids in the background of a Zoom meeting), and I am seeing the impact of allowing the blurring of boundaries, on both parts of my life. In the future, I intend to make changes including turning off email notifications so that I am not tempted to dip into them before work and undertaking some more concerted efforts at “device distancing” while I am in parent mode.
How is this pattern interrupt highlighting thinking and behaviour that you might need to change? How about your team, company, community?
What is this “liminal space” revealing to you about yourself, your work and the world? And from this vantage point, what’s next?
We encourage you to take this space right now, to see the opportunities, as well as the challenges. There’s an opportunity for a holy shift. So we invite you to take it.
And take a “snap shot” of the “orbital perspectives” you are being offered at this time. These “snap shots” might include written notes, journalling, recording your observations and future intentions or just sharing in conversation with others who will be able to reflect your words back to you later. These will become invaluable cues for you to refer to as we emerge from this time, to inform your next steps as a leader.